The Atlanta Falcons are a team in flux after the 2022 season. They just moved on from the greatest quarterback in their franchise history, 14-year starter Matt Ryan. They only got a few games to see what they had in rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder as well and still seem to be figuring out how to maximize the talents of their young weapons: tight end Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Drake London, and running back Tyler Allgeier.
Still, Atlanta managed to win seven games in 2022 and finished just a game out of first place in the NFC South. With Tom Brady (probably) officially retired, the Falcons are in a division that’s very much up for grabs. At the same time, there are plenty of roster holes that need to be patched up before Atlanta can be legitimate playoff contenders and a team that can make a real postseason run. Fortunately, they’ve got one of the best cap situations in the NFL, so free agency will be an excellent chance for the Falcons to make upgrades on their roster.
Here are three pending free agents that would fit in well in Atlanta.
Yannick Ngakoue, EDGE
The Falcons’ pass-rush attack has been legitimately terrible and one of the biggest detriments to the team for years now. To put it into perspective, we can compare them to the Eagles’ defensive front—a team that had a historically good season with 70 sacks as a team this year. Atlanta doesn’t have 70 sacks over the last three seasons combined. The Falcons added young talent in the draft last year with edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie, but he didn’t make the kind of immediate impact the team hoped for when they took him early in the second round.
Ngakoue, on the other hand, quietly has been one of the strongest edge defenders in the NFL over the last few years. He has yet to have a season with fewer than 25 pressures and eight sacks in stints with five different teams over his seven-year career. The Falcons may still wish to add talent on the edge in the draft to develop, but Ngakoue will be only 28 and adds clear upside to a needy pass-rush attack.
Mecole Hardman, WR
Upgrading the wide receiver room was always going to be a need for the Falcons, regardless of who was hitting free agency. The fact that Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd, and KhaDarel Hodge are all pending free agents just makes the need for receivers that much more apparent. Atlanta has their big-bodied guys that are automatic mismatches with their size in the last two first-round picks they drafted: Pitts and London. What they don’t have as much of are the speedy guys that can stretch the field a bit for their quarterback.
As such, Hardman seems like the perfect target for them in free agency. He had some trouble with injuries this year and underwhelmed in what could have been a big year in the wake of Tyreek Hill’s departure from Kansas City. But before this year, Hardman was a phenomenal WR2 for the Chiefs. He was another speedster for them that could beat defenders before the throw and take off with the ball after the catch.
In addition to how well Hardman would fill that speedy receiver role the Falcons are missing, he’s a Georgia boy too. Going to Atlanta would be a homecoming for the former Bulldog and would certainly help out whoever the Falcons start under center next year alongside Pitts and London.
Jessie Bates III, SAF
Atlanta has one solid safety—second-year Richie Grant—already on their roster. In his first season playing in a full-time starter role for the Falcons, he was second on the team in tackles, tied for first in interceptions, and tied for second on pass deflections and forced fumbles. Outside of the young, still-developing, and versatile Grant, Atlanta doesn’t really have another highly talented safety to pair him with.
Bates is the best free-agent safety on the market and would be a fantastic option to pair with Grant. Let the young guy move around the defense as a versatile strong safety while Bates patrols center field as the team’s free safety. The Falcons need an upgrade at defensive back and Bates is one of the best options out there for them.
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