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Atlanta Falcons talk: Who will be the team’s most improved player in 2018?

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Our bet is that it’ll be Matt Ryan statistically, and Duke Riley in terms of actual gains in performance.

Atlanta Falcons v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tonight’s big question concerns next year’s biggest bounceback player, or simply the one who takes the biggest stride forward. Who is it going to be?

There are a handful of logical candidates for this:

  • Matt Ryan
  • Austin Hooper
  • Wes Schweitzer
  • Duke Riley
  • Brian Poole

Ryan didn’t actually take a nosedive in 2017 in many areas outside of his actual counting stats, but a bounceback in those stats would certainly count as an improvement. Austin Hooper had a fine year but had a handful of bad drops and is in line for a bigger share of the target load in this offense, if the Falcons don’t draft his replacement. Schweitzer was the weakest link on the offensive line and could earn this award with big improvement in his second year as a starter.

On the defensive side of the ball, Riley had a pretty poor rookie season, but has the physical tools and opportunity in front of him necessary to cash in a much better second season. Poole is still one of the team’s most physical cornerbacks and an underrated blitzer, but his coverage suffered and/or stagnated in 2017, and he could face a challenge for his job this summer.

So who would be my choice, you ask? I’ll go with Ryan in terms of statistical performance, given his awful luck in 2017. In terms of genuine improvement, I’m going to go with Duke Riley, a terrific young athlete who scuffled through his first season but has a ton of upside. The Falcons were spoiled by how good Deion Jones was immediately, but they say De’Vondre Campbell go from useful to genuinely impactful in his second year, and I think Riley can make a leap to become a quality starter.

Who would you choose?