Current State of the Atlanta Falcons Special Teams Units
The Atlanta Falcons special teams units have not been much of a problem the past few years. That is if you exclude the return game.
Since the end of last season, not much has changed in the way of the Atlanta Falcons special teams. The most notable change has been the release of longtime kicker Matt Bryant who had been with the team for 10 years and just signed a three-year extension just last offseason.
Replacing Bryant is journeyman Giorgio Tavecchio, the Italian born soccer player who filled in for Bryant last year when he had tweaked his hamstring in Week seven. The next week, Tavecchio nailed a 56-yard field goal, which ultimately was the deciding factor between a Monday Night Football game against the Giants. Tavecchio brings youth and a fresher leg to the table, albeit at the expense of experience and consistency for the unit. This is surely a gamble for the Falcons but one worth taking in order to save money and go younger.
Tavecchio was dependable in his first game action as a replacement for Sebastian Janikowski in Oakland in 2017, making 76% of his field goals. Before that, he had made various stops in San Francisco, Green Bay & Detroit, not latching onto any of the teams.
Fast forward to 2018, the Falcons signed and waived Tavecchio in a matter of days before the season started. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise for the Falcons that Tavecchio was a free agent in Week 7 of the season after Bryant suffered his hamstring injury as well as the multitude of kicking woes that took the league by storm last year.
Bryant unfortunately remains unsigned and there’s a chance he finally hangs them up. Even at his age, he remains in the top half of the league as a kicker, and with the uncertainty around the league regarding kickers nowadays, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him suit up for a team this year, even if it occurs mid-season.
The most consistent positions in the unit to date are at punter and long snapper. The team is returning veteran punter Matt Bosher for his ninth NFL season and long snapper Josh Harris for his eighth year. Bosher and Harris have been consistent and durable enough to not warrant any change at either position. Bosher is entering his contract year and Harris had just signed a three-year extension last November.
The return game for the Falcons has been a sore spot for a few years. The Falcons had Justin Hardy back on punts and Marvin Hall returning kicks. They return Hardy on a one-year deal and lost Hall(who I personally liked a lot, as a special teamer and receiver) to the Bears this offseason. It appears the kick return job will come down to a few players, Kenjon Barner and rookie Marcus Green.
Barner, a proven kick return specialist and veteran with speed will battle with Green, a rookie running back looking to prove his worth for the team as a late-round pick. I would expect Hardy may get some looks at kick returner as well as Barner for the punt return job. I think it’s safe to say we can rule out Calvin Ridley as a candidate for either job, due to his likely expanded role on offense.
The Falcons have fielded solid coverage units year over year and this year upcoming should be no different. We should see improvement in Russell Gage, a gunner on the coverage unit who learned from one of the best last year in Justin Bethel, now with the Ravens. Under the assumption that Bosher and Tavecchio can also directionally kick the ball in areas that make it tougher to return the ball out from tight spaces, will only help this coverage unit maintain its place as one of the best in the league.
I believe the special teams units are in safe hands with new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica. Overall, this unit is looking to improve in a few areas while undergoing changes in others.