Draft season is fully underway, and with the NFL combine just two weeks away, in-depth roster evaluations are taking place with every team.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said they are looking to add more “game-wreckers” to their roster as they look to get back to the postseason in 2020 after the team won six of its last eight games to close out the 2019 season.
Atlanta’s 2019 draft class produced three starters by the end of the season with guard Chris Lindstrom, tackle Kaleb McGary and cornerback Kendall Sheffield all taking on significant roles. Late-round picks like John Cominsky and Qadree Ollison also found roles with the team as the year rolled along.
NFL.com writer Nick Shook recently gave out rookie grades for each team, and he gave the Falcons a B-minus for their 2019 draft class.
“McGary was available all season, but he finished 90th in pass blocking and 74th in run blocking, per Pro Football Focus,” Shook said. “Lindstrom was lost for much of the season due to injury, leaving his evaluation incomplete. Sheffield earned a sub-50 grade in pass coverage from PFF, but he was statistically effective, recording 46 tackles, three passes defended and one forced fumble in 16 games. [John] Cominsky was effective per PFF, finishing 23rd in overall defensive grade among edge rushers despite not racking up a ton of traditional stats. [Qadree] Ollison didn’t make much of an impact, while [Jordan] Miller spent the majority of his season on special teams, playing 89 of 114 snaps with the third phase of the game, then was hit with a PED suspension that began in Week 17 and will carry through the first three games of 2020. [Marcus] Green ended up on Philadelphia’s practice squad.”
Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn will be expecting this group of players to take a jump heading into their second seasons and become even bigger contributors.
After returning from a foot injury that kept him out 11 games, Lindstrom’s impact in pass protection was on display. McGary also showed notable improvement towards the end of the season. As the Falcons look to continue to play better in the trenches, they’ll need consistent performances from Lindstrom and McGary on the right side.
Quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high in 48 times in 2019. Giving him a clean pocket will be paramount in the upcoming season if the Falcons’ want their passing attack to reach the level they expect.
Another area where Lindstrom and McGary will be expected to play a big role in is the run game. Quinn said the Falcons “missed the mark” in this area in 2019 after finishing 29th in the league in rushing offense.
OIlison was primarily used in short-yardage situations, with Quinn praising his vision near the goal line, and finished the year with four touchdowns. The fifth-round pick played in eight games and rushed for 50 yards on 22 carries.
After the fourth game of the season, Sheffield started earning significant snaps on gameday at either nickel cornerback or on the outside. Sheffield started 11 games for the Falcons and Quinn was pleased with the development of the speedy cornerback as the year went on.
The upcoming season will be a big one for Cominsky as he also suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for six games, but he became a factor in Atlanta’s defensive line rotation. The Falcons are relatively thin from a depth standpoint along the defensive line and he could solidify his role with a strong offseason.
Miller’s impact came mostly on special teams and as mentioned earlier, he’ll miss the first three games of the 2020 season serving a suspension for violating the league’s policy on performing enhancing substances.