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, number four here, number three here, and number two here.
1) Matt Ryan
Ok, so this one should have been obvious from the beginning. The team’s quarterback is the most important player on the offensive side of the ball — what a concept.
In truth, were I to have made this list every year since 2008, Matt Ryan would be number one on it every single time. There are very few, if any, offenses in the modern day NFL who do not march to the beat of their quarterback’s drum.
Luckily for the Falcons they have an elite signal caller at their disposal. Just two years removed from a 2018 campaign where he put up 4,924 passing yards and a glistening TD/INT ratio of 35/7, Ryan is continuing to write chapter of chapter within Atlanta’s record books.
Ryan is the active leader with nine consecutive 4,000-yard seasons, and is second all time behind Drew Brees’ 11. Barring injury (and if a season is played), it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will reach double digits in 2020.
While Ryan (who has one MVP) doesn’t have the brand value and name recognition that Tom Brady (who has three MVPs) and Drew Brees (who has zero MVPs) have within the division, football isn’t won through recognizability but rather performance on the field. Still in his prime, Ryan seems poised to be the best QB in the division this upcoming season
With Julio Jones still in his prime and the current best WR in the game, Calvin Ridley ascending into a star player and Todd Gurley added to bolster the run game, Matt Ryan has the weapons around him to help keep his place among the game’s elite at the QB position.
The only real question (other than Dirk Koetter’s play calling) is how good the offensive line will be in 2020. Ryan was the third-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2019, only behind Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson. Organic growth from Chris Lindstrom (who missed most of the season to injury) and Kaleb McGary (who gave up the most sacks in the league), and improvement from the left guard position will be the key to giving Ryan the time he needs to initiate and run the offense.
The Atlanta Falcons as a football team will only go as far as Matt Ryan takes them in 2020. This is no different than any season in the past decade.