Leading up to every game, we try to give you a sense of who is worth watching, who might stand out, and what matchups figure to be central to the outcome. I'd like to dial that back a bit and focus on a man whose performance in this upcoming game against the Dolphins is more central to his fortunes than the team's.
That man is Leonard Hankerson, who finds himself in prime position to be the Falcons' second-leading receiver. That would have been a bold statement just a month ago, but with Roddy White suffering from a series of minor injuries and undergoing elbow surgery, the opportunity is legitimately there. The coaching staff just needs to see him play as well in game action tonight as he did against the Jets and throughout training camp, and he figures to get plenty of looks against the Eagles in Week 1.
The allure here is obvious, and with Vaughn McClure leading the charge, people are certainly noticing Hankerson again after his career in Washington fizzled out. White is getting older and he's playing under a new coaching staff, and while he remains a wizard at getting just enough separation to make the catch, he's in what will hopefully be a long, slow decline phase at the tail end of an illustrious career. Hankerson, meanwhile, is taller, faster, and just 26 years old, and has been a lanky vacuum cleaner when Ryan has looked his way. There's a lot to like here, and he has the added advantage of being familiar with Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Hankerson will have to stay healthy, which has been a challenge thus far in his career, and he'll need to fend off White, who has a long-standing rapport with Ryan, has vowed that the #2 gig is his, and remains a more effective player than many would give him credit for. It's no longer a stretch to think that Hankerson might be the team's best option after Julio Jones, however, and he can start putting his stamp on this team tonight.