While the 2013 and 2014 seasons were painful for Falcons fans, the payoff for the team in the long-term may be pretty significant. The 2013 season netted the Falcons the sixth overall pick in the draft, which allowed the team to draft LT Jake Matthews. The 2014 disaster landed us the 8th overall pick, with which we selected Vic Beasley. It's important for teams to build complete rosters, but maybe even more than that - it's critical that teams find talent for each of the cornerstone positions.
You may be wondering what those cornerstone positions are? Well, if we go solely by contract values over the years, the picture becomes clear. Those cornerstone positions are quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, cornerback and wide receiver. Based on the start to the 2015 season, the Falcons may have finally filled every single one of these critical positions with top-tier talent.
Let's start with the obvious: Matt Ryan has easily been a top-10 QB in his entire time in the league, and few people would argue that he's not in the top 6 or 7 this year (if not higher). He's an accurate, smart QB whose ability to lead the team on game winning drives is record setting. While he's 30, he plays the position in such a way that he could be playing at a high level for another 5 to 8 years. The team is lucky to have him.
Looking at the other positions, Desmond Trufant has truly emerged as an elite corner in the league. Quarterbacks are completely shying away from throwing at him now, and his closing speed may be the best in the league. He's beginning to shutdown an entire half of the field, which makes him a rare find at the position.
All the talk in the past week has been about how dominant Julio Jones has looked, and for good reason. He can single handedly take over a game and even when double-covered, he's able to find ways to get the ball - making him a nightmare to try and defend. Whether he's the best receiver in the league is up for debate, but it's clear he belongs in the conversation.
That leaves us with our two newest players in Jake Matthews and Vic Beasley. While Jake had an injury-marred "struggle-fest" in his rookie year, he's off to a fantastic start this season. He's playing at a high level not only in the running game, but as a pass blocker as well. At only 23 years old, he's only scratching the surface of what he can be at the position. This start is highly encouraging.
Quite literally on the opposite side is LB/DE Vic Beasley. Also only 23 years old, Beasley has looked every part the pass rusher we hoped he would be. With 2 sacks in his first 3 games, he's already impacting the game even in his rookie season. When you see him play, his speed coming off the snap is stunning and he's already shown the ability to convert speed to power - a skill that often takes time with young pass rushers. While it is still very early in his career, the early returns are also highly encouraging. I don't want to get too far in front of this, but Vic has already flashed incredible talent and fans should be thrilled with what they've seen from him so far.
As long as these guys can continue to play at this level (and possibly even better), the Falcons are going to be in good shape for a long time to come. While it's still important to surround them with as much talent as possible, hitting on these key positions is critical for sustained success.