The 2019 NFL season was one of two halves for the Atlanta Falcons. After starting the season 1-7, many thought the Falcons were heading towards a top-five pick in the 2020 draft. However, after their week nine bye, the Falcons turned it around, going 6-2 over their last eight games and finished second in the NFC South with a 7-9 record. Hopefully, the team can build off their second half success and carry that into the 2020 season. With high hopes this year, I take a shot at predicting the Falcons’ team award winners for this season.
Make sure to check out all of our other team award predictions here.
MVP: Matt Ryan
Not only do I believe Ryan will be the team’s MVP, but he will also be in the running for league MVP. Last season Ryan led the league with 408 competitions while completing 66% of his passes. Ryan threw for over 4,000 yards for the ninth straight season. However, Ryan has never thrown for 5,000 yards in a season, but I believe that changes this season. With one of the best wide receiver duos in the league, an underrated tight end, and a talented (when healthy) offensive line, Ryan should have a big year.
Offensive Player: Julio Jones
This seems like a no brainer pick as Jones is the best receiver in the league when healthy. Jones has played in 14 or more games in six straight seasons. He has gone over 1,390 yards in each of those six seasons, including leading the league in receiving yards twice during that span. Last season, Jones averaged 92.9 yards per game after averaging 100 or more in five of the previous six seasons. However, I expect him to get back over the century mark this season. Furthermore, Julio has a real shot to lead the league in receiving yards this season, for the second time in three seasons. Without a doubt, Jones has been the Falcons best offensive player, year in and year out.
Defensive Player: Deion Jones
Switching sides of the ball but sticking with a Jones, Deion, had a bounce back year in 2019. After missing 10 games during the 2018 season because of injury, Jones played all 16 games last season. Jones was second on the team with 110 total tackles and eight for a loss. He scored the only pick-six of the year for the Falcons. With De’Vondre Campbell now a member of the Arizona Cardinals, Jones will have to step up his game. I expect him to do just that. If Jones plays all 16 games, I believe he will challenge for the league lead in total tackles this season.
Offensive Rookie: Matt Hennessy
Of the Falcons’ six draft picks, five of them were spent on the defensive side of the ball. The lone exception was Hennessy. With the 14th pick of the third round, the Falcons selected the Temple offensive lineman. Hennessy is expected to be Alex Mack‘s backup center this season but don’t be surprised if he pushes James Carpenter for snaps at left guard. With Mack turning 35 years old this season and in the last year of his deal, Hennessy appears in line to be the starting center in 2021. Typically backup offensive linemen don’t have a big impact on the team. However, if any of the interior offensive linemen miss time, Hennessy should be the first man off the bench.
Defensive Rookie: A.J. Terrell
Some thought the Falcons reached when they took Terrell with their first-round pick. However, he had a stellar career at Clemson and should be ready to be the Falcons’ top cornerback as a rookie. During his three years at Clemson, Terrell had six interceptions and 13 passes defended despite not being targeted very often. He repeatedly slowed down the best receivers in college football. While Ja’Marr Chase got the better of Terrell in the National Title Game, there are very few cornerbacks that Chase didn’t get the better of last season. Don’t let one bad game fool you, Terrell will surprise a lot of people as a rookie.
Biggest Surprise: Calvin Ridley
During his first two years in the league, Ridley averaged 944 receiving yards per season over a 16 game slate. However, that’s with Austin Hooper and Mohamed Sanu on the team. Even if you believe in Hayden Hurst, he won’t put up the same stat line nor see the same number of targets Hooper did last year. With the losses in the passing game, combined with a struggling run game, and an awful defense, Ridley should easily see a career-high in targets this season.
Ridley had 92 as a rookie and 93 last year while missing three games after suffering an abdominal injury in week 14. He would have had 115 targets over a full 16 game slate last year and I fully expect him to see over 130 targets this year. If you adjust his stats from last year to give him 130 targets, Ridley would finish the year with 88 receptions for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns over a 16 game slate. With Hooper and Sanu gone, expect Ridley to have a breakout year.
Biggest Disappointment: Todd Gurley
Let me get this out of the way. Gurley’s days as an elite back are over. Gurley’s days as a good back are over. Given his chronic knee issues, Gurley probably won’t play all 16 games in a season ever again. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone as he has played in all 16 games just once in his five-year career. Gurley had a great two-year run in 2017 and 2018, scoring 40 total touchdowns and almost 4,000 scrimmage yards.
However, Gurley really struggled last season. He had a career-low 857 rushing yards and averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. Now while the offensive line play should be better in Atlanta than it was in Los Angeles last season, Gurley isn’t the same back he once was. Anyone expecting the homecoming to bring back the old Gurley will be very disappointed.
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