Robinson, Ridder are keys to Falcons hopes for a turnaround in Smith's 3rd season as coach


EXPECTATIONS: Team owner Arthur Blank says this is year three of a three-year plan with coach Arthur Smith and added he expects an improvement from the seven-win finishes in each of Smith's first two years. There is pressure on second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder, in his first full season as the starter, to end the team's streak of five straight losing seasons. There could be as many as six new starters on defense following aggressive spending in free agency.

NEW FACES: CB Jeff Okudah, OLB Bud Dupree, S Jessie Bates III, TE Jonnu Smith, DT David Onyemata, DE Calais Campbell, OLB Kaden Elliss, QB Taylor Heinicke, CB Mike Hughes, WR Scotty Miller, WR Mack Hollins, CB Tre Flowers.

KEY LOSSES: G Elijah Wilkinson, CB Isaiah Oliver, QB Marcus Mariota, DE Abdullah Anderson, CB Michael Ford, WR Damiere Byrd, WR Olamide Zaccheaus, CB Rashad Fenton, OT Chuma Edoga, ILB Nick Kwiatkowski, OT Germain Ifedi, TE Anthony Firkser, DE Matt Dickerson, G Colby Gossett.

STRENGTHS: Rookie RB Bijan Robinson is expected to add depth and versatility to Atlanta’s running game, which already ranked as one of the best in the league. Robinson could line up with another running back, including Tyler Allgeier, who ran for 1,035 yards as a rookie and could be a fantasy bargain this year, or Cordarrelle Patterson, who also has experience as a wide receiver. Patterson's status for the start of the season is uncertain as he recovers from what Smith described as a “soft tissue” injury. Tight end should be a deep and productive spot with Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt.

WEAKNESSES: The offseason trade for Jeff Okudah, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 draft, was expected to make cornerback a strength. The plan to pair Okudah with A.J. Terrell at cornerback is on hold after Okudah suffered a right ankle injury that is expected to keep him out until early in the season. The offensive line excelled in run blocking but still gave up too many sacks, and that could be a concern as the unit attempts to protect the young Ridder. There is a shortage of established talent at wide receiver, where 2022 first-round pick Drake London and offseason addition Mack Hollins have good size but could be more effective as short-range targets than in stretching defenses.

CAMP DEVELOPMENT: Matt Hennessy opened training camp as the starting left guard before landing on season-ending injured reserve with a knee injury. Rookie Matthew Bergeron, a second-round pick who was a tackle for Syracuse in 2022, is expected to take over at left guard.

FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: Robinson could deliver the team's best dual-threat production at the position since Devonta Freeman posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons with more than 50 catches in 2015 and 2016. Robinson believes he was the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft because he brings more than a running threat to the offense. He is confident he can be effective as a receiver out of the backfield or when lining up in the slot.

FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 55-1. Over/under wins: 8 1/2.