In Dragon Ball Z, the villainous Frieza at one point states “fool, that’s not even my final form” before transforming into something even more powerful. The Falcons aren’t literally hoping for Kyle Pitts and the rest of this 2021 draft class to turn into stronger forms – I think– but they certainly hope to have a dramatic improvement in them.
It’s easy to focus on the additions the Falcons need this offseason because they need so many and those additions more or less have be impactful for this team to take a step forward. The progress of last year’s rookies, who, as Terry Fontenot noted in his postseason press conference, have played more than any other class of rookies in the NFL this year, are also going to be key. .
Let’s look at why, briefly.
- Kyle Pitts can clearly be even better than he was in 2021, and he has to be for this team to take another step forward. Pitts just wasn’t a red zone factor this year, and the sooner he becomes a player whose teams are terrified inside the 20, the better.
- Richie Grant wasn’t much of a defensive factor outside of a handful of games, but he entered the NFL touted as a potentially game-changing aggressive safety. Again, the sooner he gets there, the sooner this defense can step forward.
- Jalen Mayfield was one of the worst guards in football, and the Falcons passed up quality players to make them their third-round “BPA” pick. If he can take a year off and even become a competent left guard, it will help stabilize a line that has been a liability for years.
- Drew Dalman being at least a top reserve, if not someone who can legitimately push Matt Hennessy for the starting center position, would be a difference maker.
- Darren Hall has shown flashes in coverage and certainly as a tackle, and if he becomes a more consistent player, he will at least be a reserve this team can rely on.
- Adetokunbo Ogundeji was an outside player linebackers coach Ted Monachino called a future “bellcow,” which is one reason He is writing so much this offseason. As the only experienced outside linebacker remaining on the roster heading into 2022 and as a player that staff are clearly excited about, Ogundeji’s ability to become a reliable rotational pass thrower or more will help determine how point this defense can improve this season and beyond.
- Ta’Quon Graham already looks like a pretty good run stopper, and with time and practice, he should become a reliable 30-a-game presence inside that defensive line.
- Avery Williams has shown signs of being the kind of returner he was in college, which is to say deadly. He will need to improve as a cornerback and returner to really deliver on his promise, but the talent is there.
- Frank Darby has barely been able to play, especially on offense, but is one of the few contracted receivers heading into 2022. need let him at least be a reliable reserve given that rebuilding that receiving corps in a single offseason will be next to impossible, especially if Calvin Ridley heads elsewhere.
What you will notice with all these ratings is that these players either have defined roles and only need to step forward to improve, or can carve out those roles for themselves with improvement. It’s probably fair to say that the Falcons would like four of those sophomores — Pitts, Grant, Mayfield and Ogundeji — to be starters, and the rest to be at least capable and reliable reserves.
This team lacked high-end, deep starters virtually anywhere in 2021, and they don’t have the money or draft capital to sweep it all up and start over. If the 2022 Falcons are going to be better than they were in 2021 against what is on paper a tougher schedule, they need those players to step up. If most of the 2021 draft class were disposable players or deep reserves, it would be an indictment of Terry Fontenot’s best player available approach, but more than that, it would be a significant setback for the prospects of this team in the short term. It’s no exaggeration to say that the progression of these nine players, who make up nearly a fifth of the potential 2022 roster, will be absolutely critical for the Falcons.
We’ll continue to review seasons for the 2021 draft class in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the class and its potential impact in Atlanta in the future?