The Atlanta Falcons are looking at another very successful season. The only thing that should keep them from making playoffs is a significant injury. They will have several players that should be candidates for awards at the end of the season.
Here are the best players on the Falcons roster and some predictions for this season.
Best Skilled Offensive Player
Jones has one of the best combinations of size and speed of any player in the league. When those are combined with his competitiveness and route running, he really stands out from the other receivers in the league. So many receivers beat defenders solely on their size or speed. Jones has the ability to beat cornerbacks, linebackers and safeties on multiple different route options.
The 6-feet-3-inch, 220-pound eighth-year veteran has been named to the Pro Bowl five times, All-Pro team twice, NFL’s Top 100 players four times (including third in 2017), NFL All-Rookie Team once and player of the week four times. He also led the league in receptions once, receiving yards once, yards from scrimmage once and receiving yards per game twice.
Best Offensive Lineman
Mack has grown from a 21st overall draft pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2009 to one of the top centers in the league. He left the Browns after making the Pro Bowl three games following the 2015 season as a 30-year-old free agent in favor of the Falcons. In two years with the Falcons, he has been named to the Pro Bowl both seasons. He also received the highest value among offensive linemen and tied for the seventh highest overall on Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value list in 2017. The Falcons were in desperate need to upgrade the offensive line when they signed him. His consistency, attention to detail in his technique and character have helped him lead the Falcons’ to now having a very good set of blockers in front of quarterback Matt Ryan.
Best Pass Rusher
Beasley consistently draws double teams and more attention on the edge than anyone else on the roster. He amassed 15.5 sacks in his second year in the league in 2016. Last season was a bit of a down year as he adjusted to more attention his way with just five sacks. He will see a big boost in production if second-year edge defender Takkarist McKinley progresses enough to take some of the attention with him.
Beasley is a pure pass rusher. He has good size but is not big enough to be an every-down player. The Falcons tried to use him some off the line of scrimmage last season, but he was far less effective than he was playing downhill into the backfield.
Best Pass Defender
Trufant has developed into a true No. 1 shutdown cornerback for the Falcons. He hasn’t collected a lot of interceptions. He doesn’t really get them at all, just nine in five seasons, but is effective at denying the receiver the ball. He has recorded at least 11 passes defended in every season he has played at least 10 games. He is a very good athlete with good size. He relies on his athleticism but can be out-muscled by big, physical receivers.
Hooper has all the physical attributes to be a dominant tight end in the NFL: height, length, hand size and straight-line speed. Now, the 23-year-old needs to put all the tools together. Tight ends tend to take a year or two to figure it out. Hooper had a very modest rookie season in 2016 with 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns, most of it came in the latter stages of the season. He improved in Year 2 with 49 catches for 526 yards and three touchdowns. He should see another large uptick in production this season.
Best New Addition
The Falcons did very little in free agency. They added a few secondary pieces that will help improve the team, but the best addition will be their first-round draft pick. Ridley is the only game-changing playmaker in this year’s rookie class and the Falcons got him with the 26th pick. He will be able to mix into the receiver position group as one of the top three players. Ridley could start on the outside opposite Jones. Ridley will benefit from the defense’s attention being paid to Jones.
Not So Out On A Limb Prediction
The Falcons will have top-five offense.
Ryan, Jones, Ridley, Hooper, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will haunt opposing defenses. The Falcons can attack their opposition so many different ways. The addition of Ridley makes them that much better.
Last season, the Falcons finished eighth in the league with 364.8 yards per game. They also had a new offensive coordinator, Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian was in his second season ever as an NFL coach and first calling plays. It took at least half the season for the unit to gel. They have now had 17 months and Sarkisian should have a much better understanding of his personnel this year.
While Beasley is the best pass rusher, McKinley will reach 10 sacks and lead the team.
McKinley had six sacks as a rookie. He still needs some more polish, but his pure athleticism and determination will continue his development. His production will nearly double as he gets more playing time.