The season opener is just days away, and you know how good this roster looks by now, as well as the question marks that still remain. Our job at the moment is just to gird ourselves for the game ahead and try to suss out whether or not the Falcons will win. That, in turn, is going to depend on how this newly minted roster performs.
In that spirit, here are the players with arrows pointing up, and the players who have a lot to prove in the first week of the season, not to mention the season itself.
The 2016 MVP and 2017 Unluckiest Quarterback in the NFL is in a great position to improve on last year, at least statistically. Ryan threw a ton of unlucky picks a year ago, but this year that luck should turn a little bit, and his supporting cast now features Calvin Ridley in addition to a potential upgrade at right guard in Brandon Fusco. Ryan has only gotten better at moving in the pocket and making tough throws as he’s gotten older, and this has the potential to be one of his best seasons yet.
Similar to Ryan, Julio’s bouncing back after a statistically disappointing season that saw him score just three touchdowns and have a weirdly unsuccessful run in the red zone. Well-rested, fully healthy, and in an even better offense on paper, I expect Julio to dominate again, and to be more of a factor as a scoring option than he was in 2017. The Eagles have a solid secondary, but they still don’t have any designated Julio stoppers.
Hooper was responsible for a couple of Ryan’s interceptions a year ago and had some bad, ugly drops that marred an otherwise solid season. Now fresh off an offseason where he had Logan Paulsen to mentor him and less hype to hound him, Hooper has loads of upside, especially in the red zone. Teams can’t cover everyone, and Hooper’s going to get less attention than he did a year ago when Calvin Ridley wasn’t around.
It’s difficult to imagine a player with more 2018 hype than Takk. After a strong rookie season, McKinley’s the full-time starting defensive end opposite Vic Beasley, and he showed considerable promise against the run and as a pass rusher. The defensive line didn’t necessarily get any better around him, but this is still a very good defense, and Takk is going to eat. Double digit sacks and a reputation for terror are very much on the table.
Tru didn’t have a disappointing year, really, but one that perhaps fell a bit short of his lofty standards. Now totally healthy, Trufant figures to again be one of the league’s elite cornerbacks playing in an absurdly talented secondary with plenty of talent in front of him. He’s shown flashes in the past couple of years of being a turnover machine, and we’ll hope this is the year he finally gets them in gobs.
Someone’s going to have to lose some targets with so many weapons, and increasingly I’ve come around to the view that it’ll be Sanu. He remains a vital player in this offense as a sure-handed possession receiver, elite quarterback and quality blocker, and his route running is good enough that he’ll still be a useful player even if his target count goes down. But unless there’s an injury or Ridley falters early, I would expect Sanu’s arrow to point down a bit in 2018.
The Falcons threw support behind Riley after an up-and-down summer, but he’s not going to have a major role and it feels like Foye Oluokun is nipping at his heels. Riley is the third linebacker for a team that is only going to use two of them quite often, he remained a spotty tackler in preseason, and he’s unlikely to have a long leash if he has a rough start to the year. I hope I’m wrong about this and Riley finds both his footing and a major role, but I wouldn’t count on it.
The gifted rookie cornerback had a quiet summer marred by some preseason miscues, and went from the presumptive starter outside in nickel sets to a likely reserve early on. Couple that with the fact that he’s dealing with an injury and the fact that both Brian Poole and Damontae Kazee looked great in preseason and it’s quite possible we won’t see much of Oliver outside special teams for a while. You may not see him at all in Week 1.
Who else do you think belongs on this list?