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Veteran Additions Propelled Offense in 2016

Posted Feb 12, 2017

From headline-grabbing moves during the spring to a waiver claim in September, Atlanta's front office added the pieces necessary to make its offense a top-ranked unit.

After the Falcons used most of their draft picks to overhaul their young defense, they improved their offense later in the offseason, bringing three important veterans to the fold. Here’s a look at how that trio fared in 2016.

C Alex Mack

Arguably the best free agent signing of year, Mack filled a crucial need for the Falcons and stabilized an offensive line that made Atlanta’s high-scoring attack possible. The former Cleveland Brown allowed just three sacks all season, according to Pro Football Focus, and helped the run game by consistently neutralizing defensive tackles – many of whom, including Gerald McCoy, Kawann Short and Aaron Donald, have received Pro Bowl nominations.

Mack showed what he’s made of during the Super Bowl when he played with a fractured fibula – an injury that could have kept him out two months during the regular season.

“It’s hard to identify [free agency value] sometimes because [linemen] don’t show up in the stat sheet from an offensive or defensive side, but Alex is a real critical factor in what we do, how we play and the style that we play,” head coach Dan Quinn said. “He is at the very front of it on every play making the calls up and down the line. He’s definitely a football junkie.”

Mohamed Sanu

One of Atlanta’s goals during free agency was to find a No. 2 wide receiver to complement Julio Jones, and Sanu, who agreed to a five-year contract in March, proved to be that. During the regular season, the Rutgers product tallied 59 receptions (a career-best) for 653 yards and four touchdowns – one of which was the game-winning score over Green Bay on Oct. 30.

Sanu was clutch in the first two rounds of the postseason, catching nine passes for 96 yards and two scores against Seattle and Green Bay.

“Mohamed’s brought a lot to our offense,” Matt Ryan said before SBLI. “He’s such a great competitor, specifically for us, third downs and in the red zone he’s been dominant. He’s a big, physical target, he’s got great hands, he creates really good separation, and he never gives up on plays. “When you have guys like that, in addition to some of the other pieces that we have, it makes it fun to be a part of that.”

WR Taylor Gabriel

One of the best surprises of the year, Gabriel went from the waiver wire to a fan favorite in a couple of months. The speedy wideout played 13 games in the regular season, recording 35 catches for 579 yards and seven total touchdowns. Gabriel quickly earned a reputation for making big plays: The 5-foot-8, 167-pounder averaged 19 yards per reception – a team-high – and gained 20-plus yards eight times.

Gabriel was productive during Super Bowl 51, making three catches for 76 receiving yards – more than any Falcon not named Julio Jones.

“He always had the talent,” Jones said. “You’ve just got to coach it up a little bit. Gabriel came in and he’s not a guy that thinks he knows everything. … He knows the offense. It’s just little things and working together. It’s just understanding that I’ve got to be the assist man on this play. He does a great job for us, though.”