The list of potential Comeback Player of the Year candidates for the Falcons is, frankly, a lengthy one. That’s what happens when you’re coming off a 7-9 season where multiple starters suffered costly injuries, others faltered mightily, and the team in general is due for a bounceback year.
It won’t be guys like Robert Alford and Ryan Schraeder, longtime reliable starters who by dint of injury and ineffectiveness found themselves cut after the 2018 season. And it won’t be guys like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Grady Jarrett or Damontae Kazee, who played extremely well in a lost season.
It will be one of the players below, however.
RB Devonta Freeman
My pick, and certainly one of the most logical ones you could make. Freeman had his 2018 season destroyed by injury but was effective in his limited touches, and he returns to an offense that no longer has veteran complement Tevin Coleman. All he needs to do in order to re-join the league’s elite backs is stay healthy enough to get a full workload and hope Dirk Koetter’s history with ground games is not a limiting factor. I fully expect him to have a great season, which ought to benefit an offense sorely lacking a physical ground game for long stretches in 2018.
DE Vic Beasley
Beasley did not, to our knowledge, suffer any significant injuries last year beyond the ones that are omnipresent for players in such a physical sport. But he is coming off a year widely considered to be his worst, and he’s heading into a contract year where the Falcons didn’t do anything to supplant him and instead focused on bolstering the interior of the defensive line. Given the massive difference a double digit sack season would make—or even a partial rebound—and given that we’ve seen Beasley put up big numbers before, he belongs on this list.
FS Ricardo Allen
Allen’s loss was keenly felt. Damontae Kazee did great things as his replacement, but it’s not easy to push anybody into his role who hasn’t spent years refining his coverage skills and instincts. No one would be unhappy if Kazee was the long-term starter, but Allen has held down the job for the majority of the last four seasons for a reason, and it has everything to do with his underrated ball skills, open field tackling ability, and deep coverage. Because he’s underrated a great season might not get the full credit it deserves, but he belongs on this list.
SS Keanu Neal
Probably the leading candidate besides Freeman. Neal’s physicality and playmaking ability was impossible to replace when he went down, with Sharrod Neasman doing his level best and Jordan Richards doing the same without the same results. His return to the defense will be a massive lift, and his highlight reel style means he’ll make his mark in a very visible way. So long as Neal stays healthy, he’s a virtual lock to have another great season.
Who else belongs on this list?