Happy Pro Bowl season! It’s always an honor when a player from your team is selected to play in the Pro Bowl, and it’s a good feeling seeing that player get recognized for his accomplishments.
Beyond just good feelings, a Pro Bowl selection matters to a player’s leverage in future contract negotiations and for legacy purposes when it comes to things like Hall of Fame voting.
The Falcons had three players selected to partake in the festivities this season — Julio Jones, Austin Hooper, and Grady Jarrett.
Since the Falcons haven’t been played football in late December, and because the draft is still three months away, let’s take a look at some of the players who could find themselves being Pro Bowl candidates for the Falcons in 2021.
Please note: I am not saying that all of the following players will be Pro Bowlers next season. This is merely an analysis of players who may be looked at for the game.
Definition: Players on the Falcons roster who are the odds-on favorites to be Pro Bowl selections next season.
You can pretty much take this one to the bank, barring injury of course. Jones has been selected to six straight Pro Bowls and to seven in the past eight seasons (had it not been for the 2013 foot injury, he would have been a selection eight years straight).
Despite hitting age 30 last February, Jones has continued playing at an elite level and has remained the best wide receiver in all of football. He was second in the NFL with 1,394 receiving yards last season and his career 96.2 receiving yards per game is the best mark in NFL history.
Jarrett finally got the recognition he deserves by being selected to his first career Pro Bowl this season. He has been among the best players at his position for a number of years, and people had no choice but to recognize his dominance in the 2019 season.
Jarrett’s 90.1 Pro Football Reference grade this season was good for third among all defensive lineman, behind only Aaron Donald and Cameron Heyward. His 40 run stops were second among all defensive lineman and his 8.0 sacks were good for sixth, showcasing that Jarrett is more than just a one-trick pony.
Jarrett earned an even higher PFF grade last season — 90.4, with higher pass rush and run defense grades as well — indicating that he was robbed of a Pro Bowl appearance in 2018. Better late than never for that recognition I suppose.
Guys Who Have Been There and Can Get Back
Definition: Players on the Falcons roster who have been selected to the Pro Bowl in the past, are still in their prime, and whom you would not be surprised to see making it back to the game.
Ryan has been selected to the Pro Bowl four time in his career — and he was a blatant snub in the 2018 season when he threw for 4,924 passing yards and TD/INT ratio of 35/7 and was passed up for Mitch Trubisky among others.
Ryan puts up Pro Bowl caliber stats nearly every season and is an iron man who has missed just three games in his 12-year career. The key for Ryan — as with a lot of players in this category — will be whether or not the Falcons win enough games in 2021. Quarterbacks and offensive lineman especially are chained to the performance of their teams and can be anchored down if their roster doesn’t win enough, even if it’s not their fault (see: Ryan in 2018).
Ryan will likely put up over 4,500 passing yards and around 30 passing touchdowns next season. If the Falcons get to the playoffs those numbers will get him in.
Hooper is a free agent this season but is very likely to return as a Falcon one way or another. He made his first career Pro Bowl appearance this season, and has improved every year of his career — his receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns have all steadily increased year over year.
Hooper is a pass catching threat and plays one of shallowest positions in football. Both of those things bode well for his chances of making it back to the game in 2021. His rapport with Matt Ryan will only help his growth.
Matthews made it to his first career Pro Bowl in the 2018 season, and an argument can be made that he got snubbed this season. Out of players who played at least 50% of snaps in the 2019 season, Matthews ranked fifth among all left tackles in PFF score, and sixth in pass blocking grade.
Matthews’ overall grade was actually higher in 2019 than it was in 2018, but two really bad games to start the season may have shaped a narrative that the Texas A&M alum couldn’t shake in the process of a 7-9 team record.
Matthews is Atlanta’s franchise left tackle and more Pro Bowl appearances are in his future. If the team wins 9 or 10 games this upcoming season, then Matthews will likely be a lock to make it back to the game in 2021.
Jones was a Pro Bowl selection in his sophomore 2017 season. He missed most of 2018, and took a small step back in 2019. The definition of the modern day linebacker, Jones has all of the tools needed to recreate his dominant 2017 campaign and to find himself in Orlando in 2021.
Mack had been selected as a Pro Bowler in four straight seasons, and five times in six years, before missing out on the honor this year. He still has the talent and veteran savvy to make it back to the game for a potential final time in his career in 2021; but going into his age 34 season, Mack is undoubtedly on the decline.
Trufant made it to the game in the 2015 season, and was in the process of potentially making an argument for a second career appearance before lingering injuries shut him down for the year after just nine games played.
What works in Trufant’s favor is his newfound ballhawking ability. In those nine games he procured a career high four interceptions. If a cornerback can generate enough pics on a playoff team he’ll almost automatically get in.
Definition: Players on the Falcons roster who have never been Pro Bowl selections in the past, and who are good enough to make their first appearance next season.
Ridley is one of the most talented young wide receivers in the game, and he would have made the decision makers think long and hard about inserting him as a Pro Bowl alternate this year had he not missed the last quarter of the season due to injury.
Ridley was on pace to go for 1,065 receiving yards and about eight or nine receiving touchdowns in his second season had he not missed that time (his final totals were 866 yards and seven TDs). Ridley has a nose for the end zone, catching 17 receiving TDs in 29 career games as a rookie and a sophomore. His role within the Falcons offense will only grow with each passing year.
I’m actually still not sure how Kazee didn’t make it to the game in the 2018 season after leading the league in interceptions, but that may have been a case of him getting hurt by his youth and the fact that he’s not a brand named defender.
Kazee showcases special abilities at the free safety position, and his only chance of making it to Orlando next year is if Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris let him start in that position all season. With true ballhawking ability, Kazee will be a Pro Bowler if he secures enough interceptions and if the Falcons make it to the playoffs (see: Thomas DeCoud in 2012).
Selected in the 2019 draft as the most polished guard prospect, Lindstrom missed all but five games of his rookie season due to a foot injury. He helped provide some stability to the interior part of the offensive line down the stretch, and is expected to take a big step going into his second season — as most young lineman often do.
Lindstrom’s Pro Bowl credentials will almost certainly be determined by the Falcons’ record in 2020 — if the team makes the playoffs he’ll have a good chance of making the game; if they finish below .500 again it would be shocking if he was a Pro Bowler. Such is the life of an offensive lineman who doesn’t already have fame and notoriety.
McGary falls in the same exact boat as Lindstrom — a rookie lineman who is expected to take a big step going into year two, especially coming off of a campaign where he missed almost the entire preseason.
McGary struggled after being thrown into the flames at right tackle, much like how Jake Matthews struggled at LT in his rookie year. I would give Lindstrom a higher chance of being a Pro Bowler next year because of his polish, but McGary certainly has the raw talent to make it to the game eventually.
If the Falcons win enough, he’ll get a look no matter what (Andrus Peat has been a disaster for the Saints in back to back season and made the Pro Bowl both times because his team won enough).
Going into year four already, McKinley is running out of time to put it all together. There is hope that if the Falcons add some reinforcements along the defensive line that Takk will be able to have an easier time of getting to the quarterback.
For McKinley to make it to the Pro Bowl, he will have to register at least 10 sacks, and the team will have to be good. He was 22nd among all edge rushers with 10 QB hits in just 298 pass rush snaps played this year, which shows that he’s getting to the QB. However, with only 4.0 sacks to his name, he’s getting there late. Maybe this is the year where things finally click.
Definition: Players who wouldn’t stick out as potential Pro Bowlers, but who could put it all together and find themselves in Orlando.
Barner was actually a reserve selection at kick returner, and would have been in Orlando had the Saints made it to the Super Bowl (I’m sure we’re all glad he’s not in Orlando). He had a career high 35 punt return opportunities for a career high 267 return yards and his first career return touchdown this past season.
Barner is a free agent, but the Falcons will likely be interested in bringing him back as the team’s punt returner. He’ll definitely have his shot at the Pro Bowl next year.
Neal was a former Pro Bowl selection, but after suffering back to back devastating season ending leg injuries, it felt more appropriate to make him a Wildcard. Nobody knows what we’ll get when Neal returns, but if he can get back to being the player we saw in 2016 and 2017 he’ll be more than capable of making it back to the Pro Bowl. What a story that would be.