As their still shell-shocked fans remember, the Atlanta Falcons were tantalizingly close to winning the ultimate prize in football last season. The Falcons had a seemingly insurmountable lead in Super Bowl LI, but the New England Patriots got hot and the Falcons froze up in the fourth quarter, leading to one of the most stunning comebacks in NFL history.
As evidenced by last year's success, the Falcons did not have a lot of needs and did not make many moves this offseason, which is why they did more to fill their needs in the draft than in free agency.
Here are the three best moves and the worst one made by the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.
#1. Value draft picks
As a Super Bowl participant last season, the Falcons had picks late in every round of the draft. Yet they did a good job of getting high value draft picks. First round selection Takkarist McKinley is a very good edge rusher who can pair with Vic Beasley in passing situations to form a deadly duo. Third round pick Duke Riley will step in on special teams and should be one of the top reserves at inside linebacker. Fourth round pick Sean Harlow will get every opportunity to start at guard opposite Andy Levitre. Fifth round pick Damontae Kazee was one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the draft. Another fifth round pick Brian Hill gives the Falcons a big power back that can move the pile. He will be a good complement to the pair of big-play backs already on the roster.
#2. Re-signed Levine Toilolo
It's a lucrative contract, but keeping Toilolo in the fold was big for the Falcons offense. He is not a flashy or big play receiver, but there are very few blocking tight ends as good as he is. The 25-year-old is not a bad pass catcher, but his true value is in helping the running backs get yards. Toilolo is such a skilled blocker, in fact, he can even serve as an emergency fill-in on the offensive line.
#3. Signed Andre Roberts
He was third in the league in punt return average and eighth in kick return average among qualifying players. The former Detroit Lions receiver may find it difficult to get on the field on offense, but he is a definite upgrade for the Falcons on special teams.
The worst: Signing Jack Crawford and Dontari Poe
To bulk up their pass-rushing rotation, the Falcons signed Crawford to a three-year, $8.8 million contract and Poe to a one-year, $8 million deal. Problem is, neither should get much playing time.
Crawford is the bigger head scratcher, as there is a decent chance he doesn’t even make the team with four or five players ahead of him on the depth chart. Brooks Reed and Vic Beasley are the presumptive starters and Crawford is not going to beat out Takkarist McKinley for a roster spot. Instead, Crawford will likely have to beat out Adrian Clayborn, who has had back to back good seasons in Atlanta, and Courtney Upshaw, who was by every measurement better than Crawford.
Former Kansas City first-rounder Poe is a massive and athletic defensive tackle, but his production has not matched his talent as a top 15 draft pick. Poe has just 200 combined tackles and 13 sacks in five seasons.
The Falcons spent money on backup defensive linemen, but did not try to upgrade the most glaring weakness on the team: guard. Levitre is good, but the right side is pretty weak. Only four quarterbacks were hit more often than Matt Ryan last year and the Falcons will go into the season with one new starter on the offensive line, who could be a fourth round rookie. The money spent on Crawford and Poe could have gone to free agent guards like T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, Larry Warford or Kevin Zeitler.