The NFL season is just around the corner. Throughout the course of the next four months (and maybe even five, given a deep playoff run), we’ll live and die with the Falcons, in front of the TV, Sunday afternoons.
Every season sees some players fail to live up to expectations while others take that next step in their maturation in what’s commonly referred to as a breakout season. Today, we’ll be leaning toward the most optimistic side and talking about the latter.
Each writer will name one player on the Falcons’ roster whom he/she thinks will have a breakout season, followed by their reasoning as to why they chose to particular player.
Let’s get to it.
Chris Lindstrom will reach Pro Bowl levels
An early season foot injury robbed Lindstrom of most of his rookie season, but when he returned the Boston College alum flashed the potential the Falcons envisioned when they invested a first round pick in him in last year’s draft.
Lindstrom had a solid 66.6 overall PFF grade, and that was with the growing pains most rookie lineman go through. He was very effective down the stretch and particular in the Week 14 and 15 wins against the Panthers and 49ers.
Former Falcons guard Kynan Forney, who has been a frequent guest on The Falcoholic Live, has been mentoring and training Lindstrom this offseason, and he can’t stop raving about the professionalism and talent that the Boston College man possesses. Lindstrom will ascend to the top tiers at the guard position this year. - Adnan Ikic
Hayden Hurst explodes in Year 3
This may be bold for a player who has never caught a pass from Matt Ryan in his career, but Hurst is thought of as a sleeper by most fantasy analysts who understand he is going to a very friendly passing system. Austin Hooper is long gone and there are few realistic options for short and intermediate options. This doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out: Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley taking up attention deep with Todd Gurley (expected) to take up attention near the line of scrimmage. Hurst, the athletic specimen entering his third year in the league, may never see double coverage in 2020. - Matt Chambers
Todd Gurley is a Pro Bowler, again
On paper, it’s crazy to think that a 2x All-Pro running back who just recently turned 26-years-old could qualify as a breakout player, but here we are. After back-to-back seasons without a trip to the playoffs and their first season since 2013 without a 100-yard rusher in a game, the Falcons are banking on Gurley to help turn things around.
With that being said, Gurley has a lot to prove to Atlanta Falcons fans and those in the national media. Even after scoring 14 total touchdowns in 2019, the Los Angeles Rams decided to release Gurley and take on $20.15 million in dead-cap since he was released with a pre-June 1 designation. The talent and age are fine, what it comes down to is how long with his knee hold up? Nobody really knows the answer to that question.
Gurley’s 2019 season saw a noticeable reduction in carries and receptions. The Rams were phasing him out, and head coach Sean McVay even admitted that an uptick in carries was due him “Not being an idiot.” I truly think Gurley’s going to standout most when the Falcons are in the red zone. If Gurley’s knee issue doesn’t impact his game in 2020, the Falcons got a steal in free agency. - Evan Birchfield
Matthew Thomas Ryan is not old
Matt Ryan has generated a lot of chatter during the offseason. But it’s not his MVP odds that’ve captured the news cycle. Instead, his fundraising campaign following the death of George Floyd drew the most attention. This confirms that Ryan is as good a person as he is a football player. But what will Ryan accomplish on the field this season? Short answer: He’s going to dominate.
With a revamped, relatively healthy offensive line at his disposal, Ryan should have a little more time in the pocket this season. Couple that with the addition of some interesting offensive weapons. (I’m talking to you, Hayden Hurst and Todd Gurley.) This is still Ryan’s team, and he realizes his opportunity to win a championship is fleeting. In short, Ryan is going to leave it all on the field. - James Rael
A Takk attack
There are safer choices and there are choices that seem more logical on paper, but even in year 14 of this I can’t help but go with the old gut sometimes. It helps that the pieces for a Takk McKinley breakout season fit very well together.
First, he’s certainly motivated, showing up to training camp in The Best Shape of His Life (TM) after the Falcons declined to pick up his 5th year option. He’s a player who already wins his matchups fairly often, but has not been able to translate that into the elite sack numbers we’ve hoped for. Finally, the addition of Dante Fowler Jr. should only help, both because Fowler seems eager to impart his wisdom after his own breakout season and because he’s a more inspiring option opposite Takk than what the Falcons had a year ago.
I don’t know if Takk will hit double digit sacks or just get around 8 with a much more productive year altogether, but I do fully expect him to erase the sour taste of last year’s season with a productive, strong season that helps the Falcons succeed and sets him up nicely for free agency. -Dave Choate
John Cominsky will surprise everybody
While there are probably more likely candidates out there, I feel they’ve been adequately covered by our other writers. So, in an effort to be different, I’ll throw out a different name: second-year player John Cominsky. Cominsky was always going to be a player who had a slow start to his NFL career—despite his fourth-round selection, Cominsky was coming from Division II Charleston (WV) and would need time to adapt. However, Cominsky played well in limited action in 2019 and blew all our minds with some crazy special teams plays during the preseason.
Cominsky, to put it simply, is an elite athlete. His 4.69s 40-yard dash and 7.03s 3-cone are in the 90th and 89th percentile among all DL—and he put those numbers up at an absolutely absurd 286 pounds. While Cominsky lacks high-end length, his off-the-charts athleticism combined with his work ethic and the glowing reports out of training camp could portend a breakout season for the young DT. Keep in mind he’ll have the benefit of playing alongside Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler—he should see plenty of one-on-one opportunities on the interior. If the Falcons are going to be a good pass rush in 2020, they’ll need big contributions from their interior rushers. I could see Cominsky adding 6-8 sacks and plenty of pressures—high-end numbers for a DT. -Kevin Knight