9 questions the Falcons must answer during training camp:

The Falcons ended their 2021 campaign on a low note, losing to the Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Week 18. When these two NFC South rivals face off next in Week 1 of the 2022 season, Atlanta will look like a completely different team.

Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley, Foye Oluokun, Russell Gage and Dante Fowler have been switched out for Marcus Mariota, Drake London, Rashaan Evans and Lorenzo Carter. The Falcons still have over a month until their first open training camp practice on July 29.

Here are nine questions Arthur Smith’s team must answer during training camp.

Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports:

Whether it’s Marucs Mariota or rookie Desmond Ridder starting the season at quarterback, both represent a major change from Matt Ryan. Mariota, a former No. 2 overall pick, has a chance to get his career back on track under Arthur Smith – the man who originally benched him in Tennessee. Ridder is the underdog in this race, but Smith recently called the former Cincinnati standout “light years ahead of most young quarterbacks.” Both players are considerably more elusive than Ryan, and regardless of who wins the QB competition, the offense will look much different this season.

Avery Williams: Can he make the adjustment to running back?

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Williams, a former defensive back, has thrived as a kick returner since being selected out of Boise State last year. While he’s still in line to handle the kick kick-return duties in 2022, the team is moving Williams to running back. Atlanta had success converting Cordarrelle Patterson in 2021, so maybe the team thinks Williams can have similar results. He’ll have to stand out in a very crowded running back room in order to do so, though.

Can Richie Grant win a starting job?

(AP Photo / Brynn Anderson)

Grant’s rookie season got off to a slow start as he played sparingly while trying to learn Dean Pees’ defense. The former second-round pick is ready to make his second year in the NFL count, though. Many project Grant to start along Jaylinn Hawkins at safety this season. The upside has always been there for Grant, it will just come down to whether he gets comfortable enough with the mental aspect to play the position with confidence. Veteran safety Erik Harris re-signed over the offseason, plus Atlanta also signed Dean Marlowe in free agency.

Is Drew Dalman a real threat to Matt Hennessy?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports:

Dalman could not beat out Hennessy as a rookie, but the second-year center already appears to be in the mix. During mandatory minicamp, Dalman ran with the first-team unit over Hennessy for stretches of practice, which is not exactly unusual, but makes you wonder if this competition is closer than we previously thought. It’s still tough to imagine Dalman surpassing Hennessy, however, we aren’t ruling it out if the former Stanford standout has a good camp.

Can Drake London have a Kyle Pitts-like impact as a rookie?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports:

London, like Kyle Pitts in 2021, will enter his rookie year as an unquestioned starter expected to play a major role on offense. This is a big task for any rookie. Despite Pitts topping the 1,000-yard mark last season, this isn’t as common for rookie pass-catchers as you might think. We looked at the rookie seasons of the last nine receivers drafted in the top 10 and the results were mostly mixed. Can London be Atlanta’s second straight 1,000-yard rookie, or will the pressure be too great for the former USC star?

Who starts at nose tackle?

(AP Photo / Brynn Anderson)

Tyeler Davison was an expected cap casualty over the offseason, but his departure creates an opportunity for someone else to step up at nose tackle. Atlanta signed Vincent Taylor, but I think it will Anthony Rush’s job to lose. Rush played the majority of his defensive snaps in the A gap last season and based on the current makeup of the roster, I think he takes the majority of the snaps there this year.

Falcons’ new edge rushers: Realistic expectations?

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports:

Newcomers Arnold Ebiketie, Lorenzo Carter and DeAngelo Malone will be tasked with getting the Falcons’ pass rush back on track this season. Carter, a former Bulldog, recorded 31 pressures and five sacks for the Giants last season. Ebiketie was called “one of the more NFL-ready edges in the class” by Pro Football Focus. As for Malone, the former Western Kentucky standout racked up 180 pressures during his college career and has natural pass-rushing ability.

Who will emerge as primary slot receiver?

(AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)

The Falcons will likely start the combo of Drake London and Bryan Edwards at outside receiver, but the slot receiver position is still up for debate. Olamide Zaccheaus is arguably the favorite, but the team also added Damiere Byrd, KhaDarel Hodge, Cameron Batson and Auden Tate in free agency. Batson comes from Tennessee, so he has some familiarity with Smith’s system, but Byrd is probably the most accomplished of the remaining receivers. Hodge reportedly stood out during mandatory minicamp, but the real battle starts in training camp.

What does the future hold for Deion Jones?

(AP Photo / Danny Karnik)

Jones has been out recovering from shoulder surgery, but beyond that, it’s looking like the team is preparing to move forward without the former Pro Bowl linebacker. Jones is Atlanta’s highest-paid player, so the fact that the Falcons added Nick Kwiatkoski, Rashaan Evans and Troy Andersen would seem to hint the end is coming. Jones is still a great fit as a Mike linebacker in a 4-3 defense. If Atlanta does move Jones, he could save the team over $ 14 million in cap space.

Falcons 53-man roster projection: Version 2.0:

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