Today, a two-for-one bonus with our answers from Football Outsiders, covering the potential for a Matt Ryan bounceback season and a look at breakout candidates. You can buy the 2018 edition of the FO almanac right here.
Dave Choate: Does Matt Ryan bounce back, and how much does he actually need to bounce back given his terrible interception luck a year ago?
Bryan Knowles: Ryan’s unlikely to ever replicate his 2016 season; that’s sort of a once-in-a-career level of performance. But we expect Ryan to bounce back as a top-five quarterback in 2018, as long as everyone stays healthy. It’s impossible to overstate just how unlucky Ryan was a year ago. Five of his interceptions came on accurate throws that should have been caught, which is the most by any player since 2010. Ryan’s adjusted interception rate of 1.6 percent was actually better than it was as MVP in 2016. There’s nothing wrong with Ryan; he just needs some of those bounces to go his way in 2018.
Dave Choate: Who are the breakout candidates on this roster, in your opinion?
Bryan Knowles: Takk McKinley’s the obvious one, but there are a couple other defenders we’ve got our eyes on, as well.
We really like last year’s fifth-round pick, Damontae Kazee, and we’re hoping he gets more snaps in 2018. News broke today of Ricardo Allen’s three-year extension, so that puts something of a damper on Kazee’s playtime, but we really liked what we saw last season. He’s an absolute playmaker; moving him to safety was a great idea, as it means his lack of recovery speed doesn’t hurt him. His ball-hawking instincts are phenomenal; we saw him force two fumbles last year in just 163 defensive snaps. There’s talk the Falcons are considering using him in their nickel packages, and we think he could flourish there.
Duke Riley is another name we could see more of this year. Riley’s rookie season wasn’t one for the scrapbooks, but he’s still got the skill set to a good three-down linebacker. He’s got all the measurables and the physical talent you would hope for – great change-of-direction metrics, solid speed – and he’s someone we’re interested in seeing more of in 2018.