In a wide-open NFC South, the Atlanta Falcons sound like a crew confident they can end their five-year skid of playoff futility.
"We ain't going out there just to lay down to nobody," star defensive tackle Grady Jarrett told SiriusXM NFL Radio this week. "To me, in my eyes, we handle our business, we're gonna be where we want to be in the end. You wanna win the division, you want to get to the postseason, you want to compete for championships. And that's what we're focused on is being the best us we can be, and that's going to get us to where we need to be. As far as how everybody else goes in the division, however it played out, I think we want to be the best us that we can be, whether whoever is in the division, regardless of what any other team got going on."
The Falcons spent big this offseason to upgrade the defense around Jarrett, adding star safety Jessie Bates, front-line players Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Bud Dupree and linebacker Kaden Elliss, among others. On offense, they drafted dynamic first-round running back Bijan Robinson and shelled out big money to keep the offensive line intact.
The biggest question heading toward training camp is whether second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder can guide the Falcons to consistency. In four starts as a rookie, Ridder showed flashes but wasn't prolific (no games over the 224-yard mark). However, Atlanta's brass and teammates have spoken glowingly about the QB all offseason, noting his mental makeup and improved command during offseason workouts.
"One word to describe him, I'd say confident," Jarrett said of Ridder. "Confident because it seems like the noise around him hasn't affected him. Just the negative energy that the people given towards the decision that the team has made to go with him. He's so confident of the things that he's gonna be able to do and we confident in him the things that we know he can achieve 'cause he showed the work day in and day out. That's how you want your quarterback, your leader to be, unscathed and just the guy who's just locked in. I think confident is gonna be a great word 'cause he's gonna have the swagger and the talent and everything to match, so I'd definitely say he's confident."
The Falcons need that confidence to turn into game-winning plays. Atlanta has question marks in its pass-catching corps, but with a top quartet of Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Mack Hollins and Jonnu Smith, there is size to help the second-year QB make the most of his talents.
Atlanta wants to be a run-first club, but in the crucible of the big series, it will come down to the quarterback. It always does. If Ridder proves his mettle in those moments, the Falcons will have found a steal in the third round. If he crumbles, Atlanta will be back at the QB drawing board next year.