How did former Falcons fare in 2021?
Pretty soon, we’re going to have an abundance of Falcons-related news and training camp reports to talk about, and I for one can’t wait. That does mean we gotta get in the height of the summer content while we still can, though, so let’s kick off Sunday morning with something that’s equally
I got this fun idea from our sister site Gang Green Nation, which has the distinction of covering an also doomed Jets team. We’re kindred spirits! Essentially, they built a 2021 team out of players who used to play for the Jets, trying to see how good that team would’ve ultimately been. We’re going to do the same thing with the Falcons today.
Fair warning: Given the lack of talent on this squad in the late Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff era, plus the scourge of injuries, this list is pretty depressing. We’ll try it again in a year and see how it looks, but in the meantime, let’s take a closer look.
Not a single former Falcons quarterback threw a pass last year in an NFL regular season game, the byproduct of having Matt Ryan as the starter for a million years and having his longtime backup Matt Schaub retire.
We’ve got a vacancy here we’ll fill in honorary fashion with Kurt Benkert, who served as Green Bay’s #3 quarterback and is an excellent gamer.
Running back: Devonta Freeman, Ravens
Free earns the spot with a resurgent campaign, which was nice to see. The once-great Freeman was a stud running back for Atlanta for a handful of seasons before injury started to take a bite out of his playing time and production, but with the Ravens he managed 133 carries for 576 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 5 touchdowns in eight starts.
Honorable mentions would include J.D. McKissic (did most of his damage as a receiver, but put up nearly 600 combined yards), D’Onta Foreman (133 carries, 566 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Tevin Coleman (84 carries, 356 yards).
Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Titans; Mohamed Sanu, 49ers; Laquon Treadwell, Jaguars
When players leave Atlanta, they rarely seem to thrive. That’s especially true at wide receiver.
Jones and Treadwell put together similar seasons, something you would not have predicted in a million years, you liar. They posted identical yardage and touchdowns (434 and one, respectively) with Treadwell nabbing two more catches to get there. Atlanta getting a second round pick back for Jones looks like an absolute steal primarily because Julio was not healthy enough to be Julio, but it’s striking how far last year was off of his career norms.
Sanu is the best third option available, with 15 catches for 177 yards on the season. Four years ago Julio would’ve been one of the best receivers in football, Sanu an extremely capable second option, and Treadwell a fine third option, but time makes fools of us all.
Tight end: Austin Hooper, Browns
He’s the only candidate, really. Hooper hasn’t reached the heights he did in Atlanta with Matt Ryan during his time in Cleveland, but he put together a solid year with 38 catches for 345 yards and three touchdowns. Chances are he’ll fare better in Tennessee, here he landed in the offseason.
Offensive line: OT Tom Compton, 49ers; OT Ty Sambrailo, Titans; OG Daniel Brunskill, 49ers; OG Wes Schweitzer, Commanders/Football Team; C Alex Mack, 49ers
This is actually a solid group! Sambrailo stands out as the weakest link because he barely played a year ago and was not a particularly effective Falcon, but if you need a surprise touchdown grab, he’s got you.
Compton was capable as a fill-in starter, Mack was great in his final NFL season as always, and Brunskill has gone from long-term developmental prospect on Atlanta’s practice squad to a damn capable player. Schweitzer, who earned plenty of criticism in Atlanta, has continued to be an effective part-time starter in Washington.
Would this line have been better than Atlanta’s last year? No, but I had to take a beat and think about it.
Defensive line: Charles Harris, Lions; Takk McKinley, Browns; Efe Obada, Bills; Justin Zimmer, Bills
We’re scarce on defensive tackles here, but there’s a solid group of defensive end/outside linebackers types here, despite Atlanta’s ongoing weakness there. I threw in Zimmer just to have a true defensive tackle.
Harris was a breakout player last year, putting together 7.5 sacks for the Lions. Obada, a Falcons practice squad player aeons ago, was stone solid as a rotational player for the Bills, while McKinley turned in a solid season as a reserve. Ditto Zimmer, who has turned into a very solid rotational player after showing some promise in very limited opportunities in Atlanta.
Linebackers: De’Vondre Campbell, Packers; Keanu Neal, Cowboys; Duke Riley, Dolphins
This is one of the better groups. Campbell has blossomed into a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Green Bay and is fresh off the finest season of his career, while Neal was solid as a full-time linebacker in Dallas. Riley is a solid reserve and core special teamer for Miami, and this solid group is a reminder of how good at least two of these guys could be at times in Atlanta.
Cornerbacks: Robert Alford, Cardinals; Desmond Trufant, Saints/Raiders; T.J. Green, Texans
Yeesh, this list brings back memories. Alford’s been chopping his way through injuries for years now but is still a very solid cornerback when on the field, while Trufant’s abrupt decline has seen him go from an always underrated top starter to a reserve. Green rounds us out after being cut by the Falcons and landing in Houston, but suffice to say the A.J. Terrell, Fabian Moreau, and revolving door at nickel trio provided much better results than this group would have.
Safety: Damontae Kazee, Cowboys; Ryan Neal, Seahawks
Kyle Shanahan’s love for former Falcons on offense is rivaled only by Dan Quinn’s love of former Falcons on defense. Kazee was the best example of this, as the former Atlanta defensive back was a solid-to-good 15 game starter in Dallas under DQ. It was nice to see him bounce back after injury cost him all but four games of the 2020 season. Neal has blossomed into a capable reserve and occasional starter in Seattle after starting his career in Atlanta.
Honorable mention goes to Ricardo Allen, who played mostly as a reserve and undoubtedly served as a valuable locker room presence for Cincinnati.
Kicker: Matt Prater, Cardinals
It’s easy to forget now, but the Falcons briefly had a couple of good NFL kickers in those years before Matt Bryant took over and became the most dominant option in team history. One of those was Stephen Hauschka, who got a cup of coffee back in 2009, and the other was Matt Prater, who didn’t manage to stick around after 2007 but has made a quality career for himself. He’s fresh off a solid season with Arizona and is easily the best former Falcons kicker still working.
Punter: Dustin Colquitt, Browns
Colquitt spent part of the season with Atlanta before giving way to Thomas Morstead, but he finished out the years as a productive punter for Cleveland.
So there you have it, the all-2021 ex-Falcons team. It may be of some comfort to you to know this team probably would not beat the actual 2021 Falcons, but let me know if I’ve missed anyone obvious.