Atlanta Falcons

Pretenders or Contenders?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Week 4 of the NFL has just ended. We have a small sample size to observe which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let’s take a look around the NFC South to see which teams fall in these categories.

Atlanta Falcons: Pretenders. Atlanta (1 – 3) is currently in last place in the division. Statistically they rank poorly in several categories. The Falcons are 25th in rushing offense, 23rd in scoring and 23rd in total defense.

They had every opportunity to win the game against the Washington Football Team but the defense gave up a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the game. If they won that Atlanta would have been 2 – 2 heading into a Week 5 matchup with the New York Jets (1 – 3).

The offensive line is still a problem because they can’t run the ball or protect Matt Ryan. Rookie tight end Kyle Pitts and Calvin Ridley have both gotten off to slow starts.

Ryan is 19th in passing yards, which is pretty low when you look at how often they pass. They are 24th in rushing attempts. The Falcons are destined to have a top 5 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Carolina Panthers: Contender. I’m surprised to say that about this team. Carolina (3 – 1) traded to get quarterback Sam Darnold from the Jets. In his three seasons in New York he looked like a bust. He’s playing drastically better in Carolina is 6th in the league in passing yards with 1,189.

Christian McCaffrey is the best all-around running back in the NFL but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Wide receiver DJ Moore is tied for 2nd in receptions (30) and 4th in receiving yards (398). The combination of him and Robby Anderson can create explosive plays.

The defense has looked elite so far, ranking 3rd in total defense. They give up an average of 251 yards per game. They did give up 36 points to Dallas in their Week 4 loss so it appears that a good offense will not have trouble against them.

New Orleans: Pretenders. New Orleans (2 – 2) is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because they look completely different each week. They started the season with a dominating 38 – 3 win against Green Bay (3 – 1). The following week they were beat down by the Panthers, 26 – 7.

Week 3 they beat New England convincingly, 28 – 13. Playing the winless New York Giants at home looked like a slam dunk victory, right? They lost in overtime, 27 – 21. The Saints are 11th in total defense so they are solid. Jameis Winston is ranked 29th in passing with only 613 yards.

New Orleans does rank 7th in rushing offense. Star receiver Michael Thomas has not played yet, but he is expected to return around Week 7.

Tampa Bay: Contenders. The reigning Super Bowl champs return every starter from last season. Barring a major injury, I think the worst case scenario is getting to the NFC Championship. The Bucs (3 – 1) are 30th in rushing. With Tom Brady I guess you don’t have to worry about running the football.

Brady is 2nd in passing yards (1,356) and tied for 3rd in passing touchdowns (10). They have the best receiving corps in the league with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. The only loss was against the Los Angeles Rams (3 – 1).

Gurley Reclamation

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When Todd Gurley wrapped up his time between the hedges in 2015, he was expected to land somewhere between Herschel Walker and Terrell Davis in the pantheon of UGA alumni in the NFL.

For a while there, it looked like he was going to meet those lofty expectations. After a sophomore slump in 2016, Gurley followed up his 2015 Rookie of the Year Award with some serious hardware; two straight Pro Bowls in 2017 & 2018, 1st team All-Pro for both years and NFL leader in rushing touchdowns in those same years.

Then, the wheels started to come off.

The knee issues, that cost him 3 games in his already NCAA violation-shortened final campaign in Athens, raised their ugly head during the 2018 playoffs and the 2019 season as well.

Gurley saw a significant drop in every metric from 2018 to 2019, and it cost him his job just two years removed from a massive $60 million extension.

Those numbers fell even further during his one season with the Atlanta Falcons. The fewest yards, attempts, and touchdowns in his career – combined with some costly mental errors – meant his return to the Peach State was over before it really had a chance to get started.

The fall from grace is staggering when you look at it. To go from a league-leading multi-millionaire to an unsigned free agent in two years is almost unheard of.

The arthritic knee – which was the focus of great speculation leading up to Super Bowl LIII – seems to be more of a career-threatening issue than originally expected.

The situation in Atlanta seemed to have been tailor-made for the Tarboro, NC native, but the results simply weren’t there and the powers that be in Flowery Branch decided “one year is enough, thanks.”

So where does Gurley go now? Last month, it seemed like he was destined to join the Detroit Lions backfield, joining fellow Dawg D’Andre Swift and the former Packer Jamaal Williams.

Gurley made a visit to the Lions facility and talks progressed, but no contract. Last week, he made another unfruitful visit, this time with the Baltimore Ravens.

Between the two teams, the Ravens seem like the unlikelier choice. He’d be battling Justice “I’m Not Related to Tyreek” Hill for the third spot behind J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

Plus, the Ravens only have a scant $11 million left in cap space – not exactly the wiggle room you need to get into a bidding war, and that’s exactly what it looks like Gurley is trying to force.

One must wonder, though, if that’s the best strategy for an injury-plagued back looking for his third team in three years. Granted, he could have a comeback season for the ages on tap for this year, but until we see him on the field it’s anybody’s guess.

Gurley will make a roster this year, of that I have no doubt. More than likely, it will be with the Lions, but there are some fairly intriguing options out there as well.

For example; the Miami Dolphins. Myles Gaskins is a serviceable if uninspiring starter.

The Fins signed Malcom Brown in the offseason and drafted Gerrid “that’s not how you spell that last name” Doaks in the 7th round, so there’s competition to be had if Gurley decides to head south.

The Buffalo Bills. The Mafia has had some workhorses in the backfield over the years; Thurman Thomas, Travis Henry, Marshawn Lynch. 2021, though? Not so much. The tandem of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss scream two things; “committee” and “training camp open competition.” Gurley would do well here.

The New England Patriots. Bill Belichek can’t seem to resist two things; UGA running backs and reclamation projects. Gurley would be a twofer, so don’t rule out a trip to Foxboro in his future.

Flying Class

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL draft is in the books. We saw what each team did to address their needs. Let’s take a look to see how the Atlanta Falcons did. This was the first draft for General Manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith.

I’m trying to not get too excited, but I have seen several different publications give the Falcons an A+ draft grade.

They selected Florida tight end Kyle Pitts with the 4th pick. Pitts is the highest rated tight end prospect ever. He’s projected to have an impact like Travis Kelce and that should really help in the red zone. Atlanta should have an explosive top five offense in 2021.

In the second round with the 40th pick Atlanta selected UCF safety Richie Grant. He was first-team All-American Athletic Conference in 2019 and 2020.

Last season he led UCF with 72 tackles, 3.5 for loss, 6 pass deflections, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles in 9 games. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s top defensive back.

Michigan guard Jalen Mayfield was taken with the 68th pick. The Falcons needed help on the offensive line, so they addressed a need.

Mayfield is only a redshirt sophomore, so he does not have much experience. In 2019 he played 13 games at right tackle and was honorable mention All-Big Ten. He played two games in 2020 before a high ankle sprain ended his season.

San Diego State corner back Darren Hall was the 108th selection. In 2019 he tied for the FBS lead in pass breakups with 16.

In 2020 he was first-team All-MWC and led the Aztecs with 3 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, 38 tackles with 2 for loss in 8 games.

Stanford center Drew Dalman was the 114th pick. He’s the son of former 49ers offensive lineman Chris Dalman and he was a top 10 center nationally coming out of high school. He was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2020 and started all 6 of their games.

The 148th pick was Texas defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham. He was a top-150 recruit nationally coming out of high school.

Graham started every game the past two seasons and was named honorable mention all-conference as a senior in 2020. He had 23 tackles, 7 for loss and 2 sacks.

Notre Dame defensive end Adetokunbo Ogundeji (pronounced ah-DAY-tok-uhn-bo oh-gun-day-gee) was 17 when he enrolled in college. It took him a while to work his way into the rotation because of that.

He started 12 games as a senior and was a team captain. He was honorable mention All-ACC and had 23 tackles and a team high 7 sacks.

Boise State corner back Avery Williams was the second to last pick (No. 183) for the Falcons.

He was All- Mountain West Conference in all four seasons and he’s a good kick returner as well.

He was a third team All-American as an all-purpose player because he led the FBS in combined return yardage (19-533-28.1 kick returns, 15-229-15.3 punt returns), topped the country with two punt return touchdowns and tied for the national lead with two kick return touchdowns. He also tied for fifth in the FBS with two blocked kicks.

The final player drafted was Arizona State wide receiver Frank Darby (No. 187). ASU only played four games in 2020 and he played in three as a team captain. He received limited touches after suffering a rib injury in the season opener.

Time will tell if these players develop the way the franchise hopes but Atlanta did a good job addressing team needs.

Possible Flight Paths For Atlanta Falcons

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As we approach the NFL Draft, the vast majority of the attention in Southeast Georgia has been lavished on the Jaguars and their first overall pick, soon to be converted into a golden-haired quarterback of the future.

The selection of Trevor Lawrence is the worst kept secret of this year’s draft, and a polar opposite from what will be happening with the Atlanta Falcons and their fourth overall pick.

Speculation as to what Blank, Fontenot, and Smith will do with their primo real estate in the draft order has been rampant of late, and the rumor mill is having a blast with it.

In a highly unscientific poll I conducted (read as “my fraternity brothers I asked at a wedding reception this past weekend”), most Falcons fans want the team to keep the pick as is. What to do with said pick seems to be less of a unanimous voice.

At first glance, the Falcons don’t have quite as many holes as you would expect from a 4-12 team with a new General Manager and Head Coach, but the holes (and threadbare spots that are about to become holes) are in some pretty important spots.

This draft is shaping up to be a potential record breaking one for quarterbacks, and the speculation that the Falcons will pick Matt Ryan’s replacement with their first pick seems to be a fairly safe bet.

Obviously, Trevor Lawrence will be the first off the board at number one, and all signs from the Turnpike point to the Jets pulling the trigger on Zach Wilson at number two. What happens with the 49ers at number three could prove pivotal.

The two big names mentioned at three since the Niners traded into the spot are Alabama QB Mac Jones and Georgia native Justin Fields.

If Kyle Shanahan & company go with Jones, Justin Fields to the Falcons seems like a perfect fit.

Matt Ryan’s time under center is drawing to a close, and let’s be honest; his pending salary cap hit is the only reason why he’s still in Flowery Branch.

Justin Fields has drawn more than one comparison to a pre-Ron Mexico era Michael Vick.

The fact that he would be coming to his home state would make more than a few fans happy and put more than a few butts in seats at Mercedes Benz…oh, who are we kidding? After COVID, there’s going to be no problem getting butts in seats again, but Fields will more than likely keep most (if not all) of those butts happy.

If Fields winds up going to San Francisco, Atlanta could take the Bama signal caller, but don’t be surprised if the Falcons pass on Jones and take North Dakota State product Trey Lance.

He’s been mentioned at #4 most of the offseason, and has only slid down some prognosticators’ boards fairly recently.

It also won’t be a shock if Atlanta forgoes the QB need entirely and jumps on Florida’s Kyle Pitts.

Although he’s primarily been used as a TE, his college career shows he could easily line up as a WR, and would ease the injury & age concerns swirling around Julio Jones.

Then of course there’s the speculation that the Falcons could trade out of the spot entirely. Supposedly New England has eyes on Pitts as well, hoping to turn him into Gronk v2.0.

If the trade happens, the Falcons reportedly don’t want to drop too far in the first.

Regardless of who they trade with, look for Atlanta to go for one of the two Alabama receivers projected to be first rounders (Jaylen Waddle and Heisman winner Devonta Smith) to pair with Calvin Ridley.

If an early second round pick is in the mix, watch for them to look for a replacement for pending free agent departure Todd Gurley.

Top running backs in this year’s skimpy crop are UNC’s Javonte Williams and (surprise, surprise) Alabama’s Najee Harris.

Long story short, I’d look for the Dirty Birds to harken back to the glory days with an electric, mobile, scrambling young gunslinger, or expect them to start looking like Tuscaloosa East.

Draft Board

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL Draft will start April 29 in Cleveland, Ohio.

We have plenty of time to speculate how teams will address their needs leading up to that.

Let’s take a look around the NFC South and look at who these teams should select with their first-round pick.

Atlanta: The Falcons started the season with five losses and finished with a 4 – 12 record. Dan Quinn was fired after the slow start.

Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith was hired as head coach once their season ended. As OC for the past two years in Nashville Smith showed us that he knows how to force feed Derrick Henry.

Atlanta has the 4th overall pick and they have a decision to make. Should they move on from Matt Ryan and draft a young quarterback? Or do they believe in the offense and select a player to help on the porous defense?

If they want to keep Ryan, then Alabama corner back Patrick Surtain II is the best pick. I feel old because I remember his dad from Madden 2003. He’s the best corner in the draft and he would instantly help the secondary.

If they decide to go with a quarterback, they will have to choose from Trey Lance (North Dakota St.), Mac Jones (Alabama) or Zach Wilson (BYU). I think Wilson is the best out of these three and should strongly be considered if he’s still on the board.

Carolina: The Panthers were 5 – 11 in 2020 and have the 8th pick.

All-World running back Christian McCaffrey missed the majority of the season. They don’t have many offensive weapons other than McCaffrey.

They did add quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and speedy receiver Robby Anderson in free agency last year. Anderson did have 95 receptions, 1,096 yards and 3 scores but he’s not a number one receiver.

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts would be a great addition. Pitts is 6’6, 246 pounds and a very good athlete. In 8 games he had 43 catches, 770 yards and 12 touchdowns. He could have an impact like Travis Kelce does for the Chiefs.

Quarterback could also be an option if they like the players that will still be available.

New Orleans: The Saints (12 – 4) have the 28th pick. First ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees is expected to retire. They pick so late in the first round that quarterback is not an option.

Tulsa linebacker Zaven Collins would be a good pick. He’s 6’4, 260 pounds and versatile. He blocked two kicks on special teams. He had a career high 14 tackles against an SEC team (Arkansas).

South Carolina corner Jaycee Horn could also be an option. His father Joe was a receiver for the Saints.

Tampa Bay: The Bucs (11 – 5) won the Super Bowl in Tom Brady’s first season with the team. They are strong on offense so they will probably draft a defensive player.

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai would be a good pick. In 9 games this season he had 54 tackles and 5 sacks.

Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon might also be considered. He had 45 tackles, 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble in 8 games.

The QB Sweepstakes

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As the recent exchange of quarterbacks between the Rams and Lions becomes finalized, it looks like the NFL’s offseason has started a week early.

With other quarterbacks (Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers) either requesting to be traded or hinting they may look elsewhere; this offseason is shaping up to be a memorable one.

So, with that in mind, which of those two quarterbacks should each NFC South team go after, hypothetically speaking.

Atlanta Falcons: On the surface, Rodgers seems like the obvious choice.

He is currently the better of the two quarterbacks and comes with a price tag that will probably be a little less hefty than the two 1’s, two 2’s, and two young defensive players the Texans are reportedly asking for.

Of course, having said all that the correct choice is Watson.

The Falcons will need to draft a quarterback within the next year or two with one of those draft picks anyways, and I’m sure they would happily give up two 1’s if you were guaranteed a player the level of Watson; giving up two 2’s would hurt, but it’s not the end of the world.

There’s just enough talent on their roster to be able to absorb the loss of two defensive players and not completely set them back. It’s not going to happen, but I don’t think the idea is too far-fetched.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers going after Rodgers would be as much of a waste of time as Eminem recording an avant-garde jazz album- not that it wouldn’t be interesting to see the end result.

I know Carolina is interested in Watson, it’s just whether or not they’re willing to pay the ransom Houston is asking for.

Similar to Atlanta, they’ll be drafting a quarterback this year or next, but unlike Atlanta they aren’t in the position to lose young talent. (The Panthers did have interest in Stafford, but as a friend of mine texted me “I’m overjoyed the Panthers “lost” the Matthew Stafford sweepstakes”. I couldn’t have agreed more.)

New Orleans Saints: I wanted to go with Watson here too, but I actually like Rodgers in this situation.

As strange as it to say, Rodgers would be an upgrade from Brees and the Saints are already Super Bowl contenders.

Neither Jameis Winston nor Taysom Hill are the long-term answers so I wouldn’t blame New Orleans if they made a run at Watson.

However, adding Rodgers would have a very 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers feeling to it, only with a better starting off point.

I don’t believe Atlanta is going to be a player for either quarterback and Carolina will throw their name in for Watson, but probably come up short.

I wouldn’t be surprised though to see the Saints name come up with at least one, if not both guys. Besides all the financial and roster considerations, they are probably the most attractive team in the division.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence, some quarterback that hasn’t even been born yet; it doesn’t matter who would be the better fit because Tom Brady is never going to retire and we all just need to deal with it.

With the way this season has gone everything yet nothing surprises me anymore.

The only thing I’m hanging my hope on is if Aaron Rodgers somehow ends up in Charlotte there will be an Eminem/Herbie Hancock album soon to follow.

 

Spreading Their Wings?

By: Buck Blanz

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Looking around the NFL as the Super Bowl gets closer, teams that didn’t make the playoffs this season have begun making beneficial moves for their future.

The Atlanta Falcons, much like the Jacksonville Jaguars, had some soul searching to do while figuring out how to put their best foot forward.

Leaving the fans to speculate on what will happen throughout the crucial 2021 offseason for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Atlanta Falcons franchise has a clean slate, without a General Manager or a Head Coach, to make the 2021 offseason the most important in Franchise history.

First, the Falcons hired former Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who throughout the past two seasons led one of the most balanced offenses in the NFL.

This past season Smith’s offense ranked second in defensive efficiency, fourth in points per game at 30.7 and third in yards per game at 396.4.

Looking at Smith’s numbers alone is encouraging for Falcon fans as they have seen their best offense turn into a stand still through the last four seasons.

Unfortunately for Smith, Falcons fans are not going to be easy to work with as the young offensive minded coaches before him (Sean Mcvay, Matt Lefleur, and Kyle Shannahan) have set the bar very high with little time to make their mark.

Arthur Smith will look to do something very similar in Atlanta as he hopes to turn around a franchise with a horrendous record of 4-12.

After the Falcons found their guy to lead them out of the locker room on Sundays, their next mission was to find the best fit for General Manager for the future of the Franchise.

The Falcons decided to hire 40-year-old Terry Fontenot, who has spent the last 18 years working with the New Orleans Saints in various positions.

Fontenot was most recently acting as the assistant general manager and began in the marketing intern before moving his way up through the ranks.

Fontenot attracted the Falcons attention considering the position by demonstrating tough decision making that resulted in championship contending teams year in and year out.

Where does this leave the Falcons?…

For starters… Anyone that is entering the 2021 offseason $37 Million over the salary cap after going 4-12 the season before is in a rough spot.

That is exactly where the Falcons are sitting, so Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have their work cut out for them in their first season.

Fontenot’s New Orleans experience shows that he has been a part of an organization that has prioritized winning over money and finding ways to make it work. Given his background and the recent success in New Orleans, it seems like the Falcons franchise is in good hands.

The only question that remains is whether or not the Falcons are going to try and win now or begin to rebuild for the future.

From ownership down to newly hired head coach Arthur Smith the goal is to make it possible for the franchise to establish consistent success.

As far as Matt Ryan and Julio Jones’ future in Atlanta, Owner Arthur Blank says that those decisions are completely in the hands of Smith and Fontenot to be able to create their own clear path for success within the Franchise.

Changing Winds

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

When it was announced the Atlanta Falcons had hired Arthur Smith as their new head coach I immediately thought “‘the guy who wrote Dueling Banjos is still alive…and he’s going to coach the Falcons?”

Ok, so maybe the latter part is a bit of an embellishment, but that is the first Arthur Smith that came to mind.

Even with my knowledge of Smith’s football career limited to his last two years as Tennessee’s Offensive Coordinator, the hire shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise.

Atlanta has a history, particular in recent years, of hiring first time head coaches. While some organizations seemed determined to only hire former head coaches, Smith’s hire will be the fourth consecutive time the Falcons have handed the reigns of their team over to someone with no NFL head coaching experience.

Even when they have gone the “recycled” route, the last two coaches to fall under that category were Jim Mora and Dan Reeves- neither of which were considered bad hires at the time.

Whether that is the best is way for them to proceed or not is completely subjective, but I do give them credit for not falling in to the relationship trap of “oh, I know who they were beforehand, but they’ll be different with me.”

What intrigues me more about the hire is what it might say about the direction the franchise is heading and what exactly the expectations are for Smith.

Typically, when you see a young head coach join a team that has several high-profile players on the backside of their career, you automatically think it’s time to tear down and rebuild.

In Atlanta’s case, bringing in a highly regarded offensive coordinator, combined with an aging quarterback and the fourth overall pick in the draft, is the ideal situation to start moving onto the next phase of the franchise’s future.

However, with Matt Ryan hopefully still having another 2-3 productive years left, and Smith’s record of success in Tennessee, however limited it may be, it wouldn’t shock me if those plans are simmering on the back burner for at least another season.

If the Falcons are trying to make one last push before their franchise quarterback rides off into the sunset, bringing in someone who revived a lesser quarterback’s career isn’t a bad place to start.

If I had to guess, how the Falcons choose to use that fourth pick will give us a pretty good indication of what their plans are, and how much leeway their new head coach is going to received.

Trevor Lawrence won’t be available, and I imagine Justin Fields will be off the board as well, so is Atlanta enamored enough with either Zach Wilson or Trey Lance to draft them that high, knowing they probably won’t see the field for a year or two?

Obviously, there are other aspects to take into consideration when you’re trying to figure out the direction of a football franchise, but none will speak louder than Atlanta drafting a quarterback that early.

Like with any hire there will always be questions- are two years enough to judge how Smith will run a team? Were there better options out there?

Regardless of how you answer you those questions, the hire falls right in line with who the Atlanta Falcons have been. Now it’s just figuring out exactly what that means.

Shot Caller

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL regular season is over, and the Atlanta Falcons finished 4 – 12.

Atlanta has the No. 4 pick in the upcoming 2021 draft. They fired Dan Quinn earlier in the season and they need to hire a new coach (and GM).

Let’s take a look at some of the candidates and see who the best fit is.

I’m going to say one thing before I start. I’m not a big fan of hiring coordinators for their first head coaching position. The reason is players make them look much better than what they actually are.

For instance, Brian Billick was labeled an offensive genius as the Vikings offensive coordinator. When he coached the Baltimore Ravens, they were never good on offense.

We can also say the same thing about Quinn coaching the top defense in Seattle and coming to Atlanta.

Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator in New England also before becoming a head coach.

Eric Bienemy is the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator and he’s the hottest candidate. He has the benefit of coaching Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.

This is another case of the talent he coaches that makes him seem like a great play caller. If the roster stays the same there will be talent at the skill positions for the Falcons, except at running back. This might be a decent fit for both.

Josh McDaniels is back in New England in his second stint as OC from 2012 to now. He was also there from 2005-08 as the play caller. He was the head coach for Denver from 2009-10 and his record was 11 – 17.

In 2018 he was announced as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and the same day he withdrew from the position to stay with the Patriots.

I think this would be a very bad fit. McDaniels coached Tom Brady, who is one of the best quarterbacks of all time. That has helped to bolster his status, but it hides the fact he’s not an elite coach. The Patriots were 27th in total offense this season after Brady left town.

Lincoln Riley is the Oklahoma head coach. He’s had that position since 2017 and he’s led the Sooners to a 45 – 8 record.

His offense is explosive and continues to have success with whoever plays quarterback.

He has coached NFL starters like Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts.

This season with Spencer Rattler as the signal caller they were still one of the best offenses in the country.

I think this would be the best fit because offense wins championships now.

He’s also an experienced head coach. A few years ago, college coaches had a tough time transitioning to the NFL. Now the NFL has adopted so much from college football that it is not as difficult.

We have also seen former college coaches have success in the NFL with Pete Carroll being the most successful.

Brian Daboll is the Buffalo Bills OC. Before getting hired for that position in 2018 he spent one season as the co-offensive coordinator and QB coach at Alabama.

He also served as OC for Cleveland (2009-10), Miami (2011) and Kansas City (2012).

I think this would be an average fit with the Falcons. He helped develop a young quarterback, Josh Allen. Allen has improved in each of his three seasons and he is drastically better this year.

Tampa Bay Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich is also a possible candidate.

Hopefully Atlanta can hire a good general manager and head coach. The franchise needs a turnaround badly.

Making The Grade?

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Going into the season many experts thought the NFC South would be the toughest division. Now that we’re a little more than halfway through the season let’s take a look at how each team is doing and grade them on their midseason report card.

Tampa Bay: The Buccaneers (6-3) have a lot of hype surrounding them.

As you know they signed the greatest quarterback of all time Tom Brady in the off-season. They also traded to get his favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski. They already had Pro Bowl wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

They also signed running back Leonard Fournette and recently acquired future Hall of Fame receiver Antonio Brown.

They are stacked with talent, but the Saints are their kryptonite. They were swept by New Orleans and they did not play well in those games.

This past week they were pummeled 38 – 3 by them. The week before they barely beat the 1-7 New York Giants 25 – 23.

The defense is pretty good, ranked fourth in the league in total defense.

The Bucs are a playoff team but not as good as we expected. Grade: B-.

New Orleans: The Saints (6-2) are flying high. Their tied for the best record in the NFC.

They have the potential to be the top seed and have home field advantage in the playoffs. I will admit that with limited crowd sizes this season due to the pandemic it might not mean as much as it has previously.

Star wide receiver Michael Thomas has missed several games due to a suspension for a fight in practice and a hamstring injury.

In the two games he’s played in he has 8 catches and 68 yards. On the bright side he should be well rested.

The defense is 3rd in the league in total defense, allowing 312 yards and 25 points per game.

New Orleans is the total package. Grade: A.

Atlanta: The Falcons (3-6) got off to another slow start, losing the first five games of the season.

Head Coach Dan Quinn was fired, and Raheem Morris was named the interim head coach.

In those four games they are 3-1. I look at it as too little, too late. Quarterback Matt Ryan is leading the league in passing yards and he’s on his way to another Pro Bowl.

Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are both on pace to have over a thousand yards and they both have missed games.

Running back Todd Gurley was signed as a free agent and he’s having a decent season.

Gurley is fifth in rushing yards (584) and second in rushing touchdowns (9). The defense is 28th in total defense, allowing 410 YPG and 27.9 PPG.

Grade: D-.

Carolina: The Panthers (3-6) got rid of Cam Newton and signed Teddy Bridgewater to replace him.

The best running back in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey is their only real threat on offense.

McCaffrey injured his ankle Week 2 and missed 6 games before returning Week 9.

They signed former Jets receiver Robby Anderson as a free agent and that was a great move. Anderson is fourth in the league in receiving yards with 751. DJ Moore is also having a good season with 640 receiving yards and 3 TD’s.

The defense is average, ranking 17th in total defense. They give up 362 YPG and 25 PPG.

Grade: D.