With training camp just ten days away (!), it’s time to talk about the hopeful future that lies ahead. Part of that is discussing players who need to improve and hopefully will improve so that this team can reach new heights, hoist a Lombardi Trophy, and allow us all to die in peace at some indeterminate time in the future.
Here are ten of them.
QB Matt Ryan
While Ryan was chiefly unlucky last year, there’s no point in denying that he had some lousy throws, especially early in the year. You also can’t pin the complete lack of red zone success with Julio Jones just on #11, and Ryan himself would tell you he needs to improve.
If he does, even slightly, the offense ought to be considerably better and more consistent in 2018.
RB Devonta Freeman
Free’s issues were almost entirely injury-related, but they led to his worst season since he landed the starting job in 2015. Freeman’s multiple concussions and late season leg injury wound up eating into his production and ensured a lousy game against the Eagles. Now (hopefully) fully healthy, he needs to bounce back to ensure the Falcons have balance on offense.
WR Julio Jones
No one’s going to deny that Julio, who is currently angling for a new deal, is coming off a year that was a bit disappointing by his standards. He had one of the highest drop totals in the NFL, including a wide open touchdown against Carolina, and managed a meager three scores in 2017 altogether. He still was productive and impressive most of the year, but cutting down on the drops and improving his red zone performance will leave no doubt about his eliteness, especially among the fanbase.
TE Austin Hooper
For all intents and purposes, Hooper was a league-average starting tight end a year ago, which is perfectly fine. He has the talent to be more than that, as he showed in glimpses last season, and he’ll certainly want to have a big year if he wants to be a big part of this team’s future plans at the position.
RT Ryan Schraeder
The Falcons got a strong performance out of their offensive line in 2017, by and large, and weirdly the always great Schraeder was one of the weaker options. Wes Schweitzer was the weaker link and Andy Levitre’s late season injury was most costly, but Schraeder can and should return to form in 2018 as part of the offense’s renaissance.
DE Vic Beasley
Beasley’s 2017 was a tale of regression to the mean, mostly, but it was also a gifted player coming close and just missing. Mix in some reps at linebacker and Beasley’s year was a relatively quiet one, one that he’d like to put in the rear view and follow up with a double digit sack season as he rolls through the fourth year of his contract. It’s a pivotal year for him.
DE Derrick Shelby
The Falcons cut and then re-signed Shelby, a solid run stopper who hasn’t come close to being a major contributor for Atlanta through two seasons. With a tight four man rotation at defensive end at the moment, the Falcons need Shelby to be rock solid on early downs, especially if he wants a long-term deal.
LB Duke Riley
This is perhaps the most obvious choice on the whole list. Riley disappointed in his rookie year, but has more than enough ability and athleticism to turn this thing around in his second year. If he does, a great two man corps of linebackers will be stronger and deeper.
CB Desmond Trufant
Tru was typically good a year ago, but there were times you could tell he was coming back from a major injury. With that firmly in the rear view mirror, and with even more talent in the cornerback corps to help him out, I’d be stunned if Trufant didn’t punch a Pro Bowl ticket this season.
P Matt Bosher
It was a semi-quiet year for Bosher, who had his worst yards per punt average since his rookie season. The hard-tackling punter would surely like to remedy that as the entire special teams unit looks tor rebound for Atlanta in 2018.
Who are you hoping will improve in 2018?