If the Atlanta Falcons want to get back to the playoffs, they’ll need role players to step up big time. Here are five potential breakout stars for 2020.
It’s been a strange last few years for the Atlanta Falcons. After coming painstakingly close to winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history in 2016, Atlanta has regressed each campaign. 2017 was another playoff year, but one that ended in the NFC Divisional Round. 2018 and 2019 yielded seasons with identical 7-9 records, leaving their fanbase massively disappointed.
Yet, something feels different about this upcoming season. Atlanta now has 11 former first-round picks on the offensive side of the ball. Despite a disastrous 1-7 start to last season, the Dirty Birds finished the year on an impressive 6-2 run. Atlanta did the same thing back in 1997, the year before the original Dirty Birds made it all the way to Super Bowl 33.
Though Atlanta isn’t expected to even win its own division, the Falcons do benefit from having an extra playoff team being added to each conference this year. For all we know, the NFC South might be capable of sending three teams to the postseason this year, including the Falcons. If Atlanta plans to make a serious playoff push, they’ll need some role players to step up this fall.
Here are five Falcons poised to have breakout seasons this year for Atlanta on the NFL gridiron.
It’s hard to pinpoint a player specifically in this position group, but someone has to step up in the Falcons’ secondary this year. Atlanta parted ways with former first-round pick and Pro Bowl cornerback Desmond Trufant. He was a great coverage corner in the back-end of Atlanta’s defense for seven years, but he became too injury-prone in the second half of his stint with the team.
With Trufant out of the picture, Atlanta will surely address the defensive backfield in the early part of its draft process. Adding another ballhawk will help, but so will getting an uptick in performance out of former second-rounder Isaiah Oliver. This will be year three for the former All-Pac-12 performer out of the University of Colorado. It is his turn to shine in Raheem Morris’ defense.
The underrated part of Atlanta’s second-half turnaround was the great play of its defense. For years, the Falcons have been an offensive-driven team, but the Dirty Birds played with confidence at all three levels. With head coach Dan Quinn surrendering play-calling duties to Morris and linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, Atlanta became more competitive defensively after its bye week.
Morris is a former NFL head coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and specializes in coaching up defensive backs. It’s a huge opportunity for him, and hopefully one he won’t blow like his predecessor Marquand Manuel did before him. Though it has to be a collective step-up in the back-end, this is the year where Oliver must prove he was worth a second-round pick in 2018.