The padded portion of training camp is here and in less than a month, the Atlanta Falcons will be opening their 2020 season in an empty Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As weird as that sounds, it does nothing to dent the expectations ahead for this Falcons team.
While they are lying in the weeds according to most, many are eyeing the Falcons as a team that can put up serious offensive numbers. A new starting running back and an athletic tight end acquired via trade will now join Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley in an offense that was ranked fifth overall in the league last season. Before the season kicks off, let’s have a little fun and come up with three offensive predictions for the upcoming season.
Calvin Ridley will set career-highs in catches and yards
I can still remember the shock waves that carried over the 2018 NFL Draft when the Falcons added Calvin Ridley’s talents to the Falcons offense. Since then, Ridley has been the playmaker many expected him to be, with 127 catches and 17 touchdowns in his two seasons. If you’re familiar with the scouting aspect of football, you are aware that in most cases it takes about three seasons for a receiver to develop. So year three will present a more refined pass catcher who appears to even have some added bulk to his frame, and Ridley was already very good.
The presence of Todd Gurley will loosen up the coverage a bit for Ridley and you can easily say that Ridley has benefited from sharing the field with Julio Jones. According to Player Profiler, Ridley was second in the NFL last season in average cushion yards applied (5.21 yards), top-20 in completed air yards (735) and quarterback rating when targeted (113.4). Basically, Ridley is due to take that next step as a receiver and looks like one of the league’s elite options if all goes well.
Todd Gurley will lead the league in red zone rushing touchdowns
I like to say quite often that football sometimes writes its own script. In the case of Todd Gurley, that rings true.
Fate brought the former Georgia Bulldog back to the state this offseason via free agency. While knee issues continue to hover, he is at worst a solid upgrade at the position. Where I believe Gurley will shine the most is in the department of red zone rushing touchdowns. Gurley was third in the NFL last season with 12 rushing touchdowns inside the 20 and 11 of those were inside the 10-yard line.
In 2017 and 2018, Gurley led the league in that category. While he was not his normal self in terms of total yards from scrimmage in 2019, the Los Angeles Rams stayed true to a strength and allowed Gurley to score at will. The same can occur this season, especially when you add in the factor of having some legitimate weapons on the field with him. I’m not too certain that Gurley can post 2017 Offensive Player of the Year numbers ,but I am quite confident his nose for the end zone will remain intact.
Matt Gono will win the starting left guard position
An occurrence such as this will definitely shake things up a bit on the offensive line. It’s not often that an undrafted free agent comes into camp and possibly beat out two veterans that were signed an offseason ago, but here we are.
The team will likely prefer that veterans Jamon Brown or James Carpenter place a vice grip on the starting role, but neither have necessarily come remotely close to doing that. Brown being placed in concussion protocol at this stage of training camp does not help his cause. Because Gono has familiarity with the team and the scheme, his insertion into first team reps during training camp was significant and also indicated the growing confidence from the coaching staff, even if Carpenter and rookie Matt Hennessy continue to get looks to.
Gono has shown a bit of versatility during his time with the Falcons. Flash back to the 2019 preseason and you will see the gradual improvement of Gono and how he was pretty close to winning the starting right tackle job until a back injury set him back. There is a solid buzz around Gono and how his skill set translates overall, and that should translate into him getting the starting nod come week one against Seattle.