The Atlanta Falcons go into the 2020 season with playoff aspirations, as a side whose identity remains on the offensive side of the football.
Just like any other team, the Falcons boast a group of players who are more important than anyone else on each side of the ball.
The performance of every player on this list will be crucial to the team’s success in 2020. I would like to just note that this is not a list of the five best players on the offensive side of the ball, but rather the five players whom the team can least afford to perform poorly or to lose to injury/suspension, whether that’s because of their incredible talent or because of the team’s lack of positional depth.
This countdown will be continuing weekly. You can find number five here.
4) Todd Gurley
The Atlanta Falcons made a couple of big splashes in this past free agent period, and none of their signings were more high profile than former local college hero Todd Gurley, who was brought in on a 1-year deal worth $6 million.
The Falcons go into 2020 relying on Gurley to regain a semblance of good health and to carry the rushing attack.
The days of 2017 MVP-esq Gurley are long gone. He’s battling arthritis which makes his health questionable nearly every week, and which will force him into a snap count moving forward, but the Falcons aren’t paying for that version of the former Bulldog. Gurley clearly lost a step in 2019, but he was still a better runner than Devonta Freeman last season despite playing behind a much worse offensive line.
Atlanta isn’t reliant on Gurley regaining his pre-2019 form (if they are then I can tell you right now that this will be a long season). Instead, they need something similar to what we saw from him last season and (more than anything) a version of him which won’t miss a significant chunk of the campaign. The upgraded offensive line he will be running behind should see the former Bulldog put up better numbers than we saw last year (provided good health).
Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill will provide solid RB depth, and an effective trio to spell Gurley when he needs rest and to keep him on a season-long snap count to keep his knees fresh.
However, were Gurley to miss time, Smith, Ollison and Hill would make up one of the most uninspiring running back by committees in the NFL, and would leave the Falcons with one of the more ineffective running games in the league. They’re a trio which represents solid depth for a few plays per game; handing them the keys to the run game itself would be a different story.
Todd Gurley’s importance stems from the fact that he will represent the majority of Atlanta’s rushing success. If he plays up to expectations then the ceiling of the Falcons’ offense will be greatly raised; If he doesn’t live up to expectations, then it will likely be another mediocre year for the Birds.