We're now entering the time of year where optimism in the NFL abounds (unless you're a Jaguars fan), and the idea that your team can be a playoff contender this year truly takes hold. For some fans, that optimism is nothing more than a reflection of their loyalty. For others, it's rooted in the idea that their team roster has improved and is a "playoff caliber" one. With that in mind, we're going to take a look at each position on the roster and see how the Falcons look going into the 2015 season. First off: quarterback.
The Falcons will be entering 2015 with 7th year veteran Matt Ryan the assured starter and for good reason: he's been a consistently good, and sometimes great, quarterback. Since entering the league in 2008, Ryan has become the face of the franchise and helped lead the team to five straight winning seasons and four years of playoff appearances. While the last two years have not lived up to those early standards, few fans would lay the blame solely at the feet of Ryan. He's played with some truly horrendous offensive lines and a non-existent running game for the past several years. Couple that with defenses that were nearly dead-last in the league, and the team struggled collectively to put W's on the board. With new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan in town, there's optimism that the switch to a zone-blocking scheme will help boost the run game which should take some pressure off the franchise QB.
Behind Ryan is veteran TJ Yates, who was re-signed to a one-year deal. Yates saw little action last year, but figures to be a decent backup option and the most likely candidate to hold the clip board on the sidelines. Backing up Yates - and potentially challenging for the backup spot on the roster - is Sean Renfree, the Falcons 7th round pick from a couple years back. Renfree showed potential in the pre-season last year - often looking better than Yates - so he's one to keep an eye on this year. In reality though, if the Falcons have to rely on either Yates or Renfree for any stretch, the team is likely in deep trouble.
What kind of season can we expect out of Ryan? Well, given the fact that Shanahan tends to run a more balanced offense, there's some possibility that Ryan's overall yardage totals may dip some. However, his yards per attempt could actually increase as Shanahan loves using the deep ball and could look to exploit Julio like he did Andre Johnson in Houston. With that said, here's how I see Ryan's year potentially playing out:
While the completions would be his lowest since 2011, the completion percentage would be on-par with what he's done the past few seasons, including his very strong 2012 campaign. The yardage total is a little bit lower than what he's put up the last few years, but would be reflective of a better running game and a more balanced offensive strategy. That balance should lead to fewer interceptions while also looking to take better advantage of red zone opportunities. While the numbers themselves wouldn't be "career" numbers per se, this would still be a very good season for our veteran QB.
As we head into the official off-season activities, fans would be hard-pressed to be anything other than optimistic about who we have at the most important position on the team. Under a new head coach and a new coordinator, Ryan figures to have yet another strong season as the team looks to bounce back to playoff form.