Very few Falcons fans would have predicted a 4-1 start to the 2016 season. After the pre-season, predictions of 0-5 or even 1-4 were far more prominent. The success of the 2016 season so far has been a surprise, and that surprise extends to the performance of quite a few players. Of those players, who has stood out as the biggest surprise thus far?
A strong case can be made for some of our rookies, who have had an immediate impact. Deion Jones has been a big surprise in the middle of the defense, showcasing his speed and an unexpected bit of physicality. First round safety Keanu Neal has also been a surprise, though much was expected of him given his draft status. Austin Hooper isn’t a starter, but he’s already contributing in the passing game and his potential for the future looks tremendous.
Some veterans also deserve some attention. Andy Levitre has bounced back nicely and is having a great season so far. Kemal Ishmael has looked fantastic at times, and was particularly impressive against the Broncos in a dual safety/linebacker role. Even Levine Toilolo has redeemed himself a little bit, showcasing solid pass and run blocking in the first several games. Quarterback Matt Ryan is off to an amazing start, and is an early MVP candidate.
All of these names deserve recognition and they are all a factor in the Falcons great start thus far. To me, though, one name has surprised more than all the rest.
Falcons fans knew Coleman had big play potential, but his rookie year was marred by fumbles, injury and inconsistency. Our own Jeanna Thomas was beating the drum early in camp that Coleman looked dramatically better. I don’t think any of us realized just how much of an improvement that really meant.
On the season, Coleman has 46 rushing attempts for 160 yards (3.5 avg) and 4 TDs. While the rushing numbers don’t jump out, the receiving numbers will. Coleman has 17 receptions for 313 yards (18.4 avg!!!) and 1 TD. In fact, Coleman is tied for second on the team in receptions (with Jacob Tamme) and is second in yards. He’s first on the team with 5 total TDs. All of this from a running back that many thought would be a “third down back.”
The game against the Broncos showcased what kind of a weapon Tevin can truly be. His sub 4.4/40 speed is as fast as some of the top receivers in the league, yet defenses are regularly forced to match him up with a linebacker. You can probably count on one hand the number of linebackers in the league capable of keeping up with Coleman. Against the Broncos, Coleman only had 4 receptions - but he went for a ridiculous 132 yards (33.0 avg) and one TD. Every time he was flexed out as a receiver, he absolutely torched the Denver defense.
Right now, one could easily argue that the combination of Julio Jones and Tevin Coleman is one of the most dangerous in the league. Shutting down one requires opening up opportunities for the other, and the Falcons have regularly found ways to take advantage of it. As of this moment, Coleman can easily be called the second best receiver on the team. I’d count that as a huge surprise for this season. So long as the Falcons can protect Ryan, there’s little reason to believe this won’t continue for the duration of 2016 (and beyond).
Who is your pick for the biggest surprise of the 2016 season?