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As predicted by the man himself, Julio Jones is “outta there.” The Atlanta Falcons traded the future Hall of Fame receiver to the Tennessee Titans in exchange for draft picks, and that ends an era in North Georgia while blowing the door open for the potential beginning of another — considering the Falcons selected highly-touted tight end Kyle Pitts with the fourth-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. No one knows what Pitts will be at the NFL level, but if he is as advertised, opposing defenses are in just as much trouble at the professional level as they were in facing him during his days with the Florida Gators.
Pitts will need help, however, and he’ll have it — be it from Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst, and/or Russell Gage and newly-added running back Mike Davis. The Todd Gurley experiment didn’t work out in 2020, but Davis joins the Falcons by way of the rival Carolina Panthers and is hellbent on making sure Atlanta has a respectable run game that will allow Matt Ryan more time to cook.
So who gets the nod when it’s time to cut down the roster to 53? Let’s take a stab at it ahead of final roster cutdowns.
OffenseIt’s the Pitts
Julio Jones is now gone and it’ll primarily be on receiver Calvin Ridley and fourth-overall pick Kyle Pitts to headline the passing attack for Matt Ryan. They’ll have solid help from Russell Gage and tight end Hayden Hurst, both of whom have proven they can produce, but no one can outright state the production lost in the trade of Jones will somehow be instantly replaced. Players will have to step up in their respective roles, which will make things very interesting for a Falcons offense that Ryan himself admitted would be weird without Jones in the mix. And as far as Ryan goes, his contract restructure was a vote of confidence by the Falcons but general manager Terry Fontenot also wants to develop someone behind him — a key reason I don’t see Feleipe Franks being a roster casualty, even with the addition of Josh Rosen.
Can the Falcoms win without Julio Jones? Will Kyle Pitts live up to the hype? Download the CBS Sports app and get the latest news, insights, and surprising predictions from our team of experts. If you already have the CBS Sports app, set the Falcons as your favorite team to get news even faster.
Defense New coach, new plan
Dan Quinn is now with the Dallas Cowboys, and he took assistant Joe Whitt, Jr. with him.
In making such changes, the Falcons added Dean Pees as defensive coordinator and he’ll enter this summer trying to figure out who the big dogs are at all three levels of his defense. Former first-round pick A.J. Terrell flashed in 2020 but also took more than his fair share of rookie lumps, although he presumably has help on the way in the form of rookie defensive back Richie Grant, among others. If the Falcons can get a push up front and if their linebacker corps is improved, things get much easier for Terrell and his defensive back compatriots. They’ll truly have to grind to make sure Pees’ first year isn’t like the final one of Quinn and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, and competitions are already heating up at every position.