Starter Chris Chandler stayed healthy and had an outstanding season, leading the team to its first Super Bowl appearance. Chandler finished fourth in the league with a 100.9 passer rating while leading the NFL in both fourth-quarter and red-zone passing. The Falcons were in real trouble last season when they had to go to their bench, therefore, they signed former-Giant Danny Kanell to act as Chandler's backup. Kanell is still a young guy with plenty of time to develop and could blossom now that he's reunited with former coach Dan Reeves. Kanell's arrival probably spells the end for Steve DeBerg. Young Tony Graziani will be back, probably again as the No. 3.
Jamal Anderson has developed into the consummate workhorse back, breaking the NFL-record for carries last season with 410. Anderson will only be 27 by the beginning of next season, which just happens to be his contract-year. While he is the "bread-and-butter" of their offense, the Falcons must guard against overusing Anderson for the fear they may burn him out. The good news for Anderson is that the Falcons expect FB Bob Christian to be fully rehabbed from ACL surgery by the beginning of the season. Reserves Ken Oxendine and Gary Downs are almost strictly special teams type guys and Harold Green probably won't be back. The Falcons would welcome a healthy return from Byron Hanspard, who missed the entire '98 campaign with a torn ACL and patella tendon.
After highly productive seasons, the Falcons felt forced to breakup the one-two punch of Tony Martin and Terrence Mathis shortly after the Super Bowl. Martin was released because of some off-field dealings, leaving Mathis as the team's lone big-play guy. Reeves jumped at the chance to sign Chris Calloway once he was cut from the Giants. Calloway is a steady, reliable performer but lacks the deep speed of Martin. Tim Dwight, a rookie last season, has great deep speed but has trouble with routes. Jammi German and Ronnie Harris provide depth.
Youngster O.J. Santiago has the potential to be one of the game's best. A big, smooth target, Santiago needs to develop as a blocker and work on concentrating on the football. Santiago's primary backup will be Brian Kozlowski, who filled in nicely at fullback in Christian's absence and is a perfect role tight end/special teamer. Ed Smith, an exclusive rights player, has done little and is nothing more than an average No. 3.
This is a much better run blocking than pass protecting group but should improve with a year of cohesion behind them. LOT Bob Whitfield was rewarded for his most consistent season with his first Pro Bowl berth. LOG Calvin Collins was erratic and thus split time with Bob Hallen. C Robbie Tobeck had a very good year as the group's signal-caller. ROG Gene Williams was a consistent performer all season. Rookie ROT Ephraim Salaam performed surprisingly well late in the season after struggling early.
This unit played at a high level all season before getting pushed around by the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII. LDE Lester Archambeau, the quarterback of this unit, notched a personal-best 10.5 sacks and led the team with seven forced fumbles. LDT Travis Hall fought through injuries all season and has earned a reputation as one of the game's great inside forces. Free agent pickup Shane Dronett played at the highest level of his career and Chuck Smith cashed-in some sacks in order to become more formidable against the run. Reserves John Burrough and Antonio Edwards bolted this off-season for the Vikings and Panthers respectively, but the Falcons acted quickly by signing Green Bay's Bob Kuberski.
MLB Jesse Tuggle, who will be 34 next season, remains solid against the run but appears to be fading fast in pass protection. LOLB Henri Crockett, who missed six games with a wrist injury, is one of the best young 'backers in the league and will probably be moved inside upon Tuggle's departure. The Falcons will sorely miss the production of ROLB Cornelius Bennett (121 tackles), who left for the Colts, but feel comfortable replacing him with young Keith Brooking. Brooking, the team's No. 1 pick a year ago, had trouble adjusting to the speed of the game early on but came on strong late. Craig Sauer was the only backup who saw extensive time and played admirably in Crockett's absence.
After having a Pro Bowl season a year ago, Eugene Robinson might be let go this off-season to clear cap room and for public relations purposes. If Robinson does go, former-Bear Marty Carter will fill his spot in the lineup. LDC Ray Buchanan joined Robinson in Honolulu and is one of the NFL's top cover men. On the other side, RDC Ronnie Bradford was re-signed this off-season and will join SS William White on the first-team. The Falcons swapped reserve safeties this off-season with the Rams-Devin Bush to St. Louis and Gerald McBurrows to Atlanta. Former first-rounder Michael Booker is the only established backup at corner.
Things shouldn't change too much in '99 from last season. Veteran PK Morten Anderson after hitting the biggest kick of his illustrious career in the NFC Championship game. Dan Stryzinski gets great hang-time on his short kicks and will handle the handle the punting duties once again. Rookie sparkplug Tim Dwight should only get better with experience on returns.