The Atlanta Falcons have the NFL’s best weapons.
However, according to Bill Barnwell, not only do the Atlanta Falcons have the 12th best offensive weapons, but they are also rated the worst in the NFC South. Yes, the Atlanta Falcons have question marks on offense regarding Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst‘s 2020 production, but to rate them lower than Carolina (No. 5 overall) is laughable.
Yes, if you were to say that Tampa had the NFCS’s best offensive weapons, I would believe you. The addition of Gronk adds to the already deep tight end position with Cameron Brate and OJ Howard.
Now will Tampa have all three tight ends come seasons beginnings, that’s a question that can be answered elsewhere.
The Atlanta Falcons weapons to be on par with that of the Saints. The core group of Michael Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Jared Cook, and Alvin Kamara is comparable to the likes of Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, Hayden Hurst, and Todd Gurley.
The real only difference between the two sides is how the offenses are run on the coaching side and the questions of productivity in 2020 from both Hurst and Gurley.
Right from the get-go, Barnwell lists his five criteria points in which he based his rankings on and there are two and a half points that I take issue in relation to his ratings. I say “half points because I’d like to believe the Atlanta Falcons offensive play call and protection will improve in 2020.
"Only 2020 matters. Long-term value doesn’t matter, so I’m strictly considering how each player is likely to perform in the 2020 season after accounting for his quarterback, line and coaching staff."
When you take into account that only 2020 matters, The Atlanta Falcons have the best quarterback in the NFC south. Tom Brady and Drew Brees will be 43 and 41 respectively once the season starts, and both have declined over the last couple of seasons.
Teddy Bridgewater hasn’t been the sole starter for a team since 2015 after he went down with a gruesome leg injury before the 2016 season began. He took over for Brees after his thumb injury in 2019, but he had the league’s worst yards per completion.
Tampa and New Orleans both have offensive-minded coaches and some of the best play-callers in the league. However, the notion that Carolina is ahead of Atlanta in coaching and quarterback play is laughable at best and absurd to entertain. Continuity is important and something that new coaching staff and roster cannot possibly have.
"Wide receivers matter more than other positions. The league considers wide receivers more valuable than running backs or tight ends."
If the receiver position matters more than any other position, then the Atlanta Falcons are nearly equal with the duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin in Tampa. Had Calvin Ridley played all 16 games, he would have eclipsed his first thousand-yard season, in only his second season.
The top three receivers in the NFL are all from New Orleans, Atlanta, and Tampa. While DJ Moore did eclipse the 1,100 yards, he is not near the same level as his NFC south counterparts.
Your number one option on the perimeter should not be seeing fewer targets than the starting running back, even if they are Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is an elite player, however, it is unsustainable for your prime running back to also be your prime receiver.
So again, how can you place Carolina higher than Atlanta if the receiver position is the most valuable and the best receiver in the league calls Atlanta his home?
The Panthers added Robby Anderson from the New York Jets this offseason, but even that addition isn’t enough to warrant a top tier receiving core. Russell Gage even gets the nod over Curtis Samuel (the guy who is supposed to be the number two receiver on the team), with fewer yards and receptions in 2019.
Samuel saw 105 targets in 2019 but only managed to pull in 54. While Gage only managed 49 receptions on 74 targets and 449 yards in 2019, this is mainly due to Mohamed Sanu and Gage was the immediate benefactor to his departure.
After Week 7, Gage saw more targets and more receptions than the supposedly second man in Carolina. Gage also outgained him through the air as he managed to get 415 yards, which is more than the 330 yards Samuel obtained.
Barnwell also suggests that the Atlanta Falcons downgraded from Sanu to Gage. However, Gage’s run of games after the departure of Sanu showed to be much better than Sanu’s time in Atlanta in 2019. Sanu only saw more than six targets twice. Gage had four games with nine targets or more.
Gage saw 17 percent of the targets from Matt Ryan in the back half of the season, compared to the 14 percent received by Sanu. So is it really a downgrade? The loss of Austin Hooper suggests that the loss his 97 targets will be spread throughout the receiving corp and guys like Gage and Ridley will see the most benefits. Not to take anything away from newcomer Hayden Hurst, it’s just unlikely that he receives the same 97 targets that Hooper did.
As a whole, the receiving corp in Atlanta trumps that of Carolina’s.
"Top-level talent is worth more than depth. Since an NFL team will typically run out some combination of five running backs, wide receivers and tight ends on the vast majority of its offensive snaps, I focused on the five most valuable weapons. I handed out a bonus for players who would widely be considered among the best at their respective positions"
Christian McCaffrey is the best running back in the league and he’s a better overall player than Julio Jones; the best player for the Atlanta Falcons.
If you’re also considering the five best weapons on a given team, then outside of McCaffrey, there is nothing to offer for Carolina. Atlanta has a slew of weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal.
Barnwell’s only knock on Julio is his drop in yards per game from 2018 (104.8) to 2019 (92.9). This can mainly be attributed to Matt Ryan spreading the ball around more. Jones was targeted by Ryan only 23 percent of the time. This is a decrease from the 28 percent he received from Ryan in 2018.
If we are also including DJ Moore as a top tier talent, then the Atlanta Falcons number two receiver is on par with the guy who is supposed to be number one in Carolina. Had Ridley not have to sit out the final three games, he would have ended the season with 1,065 yards on 78 catches.
Moore ended the season with 1,175 yards on 87 receptions in 15 games. It’s likely that Ridley also would have ended the season with less than 137 targets, which is what Moore got in the 15 games he was featured in.
There is still a reason to be concerned about the health of Todd Gurley, but his presence provides an instant upgrade from Freeman. However, it’s unjustifiable to place Carolina over the Atlanta Falcons solely because of their one true offensive weapon.