Falcon Prey: A 2020 Season Outlook for the Atlanta Falcons

So, it begins. The 2020 NFL season is finally upon us. Wait! let me just say that again, because it felt so good to say. FOOTBALL IS BACK! What a crazy year it has been so far. Down in Atlanta, the Falcons are ready to extend on a hot finish to their 2019 season. 

Atlanta won their final 4 games and had a record of 6-2 over the second half of the season, after starting the season 1-7. That is something to be proud of and build on. With a strong core and a young group of talented players, the Falcons look to build on that strong finish in 2020.

‘Keepin’ It Neal’: Back-to-back seasons have been derailed for Pro Bowl safety Keanu Neal due to injuries. In 2018, Neal suffered a torn ACL in the opening game of the season. Then, In 2019 during week 3, Neal suffered an Achilles tear that sidelined him the remainder of his season. 

During a recent interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Neal mentioned “I feel great”. Also during his interview, he mentioned that he slimmed down to help him move better on the field. Keanu Neal is a great asset to have in the back end of your defense. In 2017, his last full season, he started all 16 regular season games and contributed 116 total tackles (83 solo), 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and 6 passes defended while being invited to the NFL Pro Bowl.

Labeled as a ‘box safety’, Neal is a tough hard nosed athlete that can make impact plays for your defense. Having him back in the Atlanta secondary is going to be huge for the defense. I personally have been a fan of his since his Florida days. There is a certain ‘it’ factor some athletes have and you just know they can impact momentum in a game, Neal has that ‘it’ factor. 

‘What’s Happenin’ Captain’: A new season is upon us, and the captains have been selected for the Atlanta Falcons. These leaders are chosen based off of their ability to best exemplify what it means to be a Falcon. Captains are chosen to represent and lead the team into the season on and off the field. 

As written and reported by Kelsey Conway, of AtlantaFalcons.com, the Atlanta Falcons have announced their 2020 team captains following practice Thursday. The six captains include: 

QB Matt Ryan (13th season, all with Atlanta), WR Julio Jones (10th season, all with Atlanta), C Alex Mack (12th season, 5th with Atlanta), DT Grady Jarrett (6th season, all with Atlanta), LB Deion Jones (5th season, all with Atlanta), and S Ricardo Allen (7th season, all with Atlanta).

‘New Faces In The A’: Every year throughout the NFL, teams acquire new talent. Whether, it be through trades, free agency, the NFL Draft, or roster cuts from other teams. Let’s take a minute to focus on 3 of those new additions that I feel may contribute a lot of production in the lineup this season for the Falcons. 

  • Hayden Hurst: Possibly the biggest acquisition this off-season is the strong handed and athletic tight end. Atlanta acquired Hurst and a 2020 4th rd pick from the Baltimore Ravens for a 2nd and 5th round selection in 2020. As a Baltimore Ravens follower, I got to see the past 2 seasons what Hurst is capable of when given the opportunity, and that is BIG plays. Yea, I get it, Hurst did battle some injuries in Charm City and the rise of Mark Andrews didn’t help his case. However, he showed a lot of promise and the potential as a high ceiling TE . His production in Baltimore when called upon was there. Hurst had 28 games played (4 Starts), and averaged 11.9 ypc on 43 snags with 3 scores. He will be replacing Austin Hooper that saw 97 targets last season in this same offense. The opportunity is there. I think Hurst takes advantage of it and has a lot of production in Atlanta. 
  • Todd Gurley II: This will be the first season in his NFL career that star RB Todd Gurley II is not suiting up for the St. Louis/LA Rams. TG3 spent 5 seasons with the Rams compiling a ton of awards including: 3 pro bowls, 1 offensive player of the year award, and 2 first team all pro selections in just 5 seasons. We all know about the injury history, but the production is undeniable when he is on the field. Flash forward to 2020 with an extended off season and a will to prove the doubters wrong. TG3 finds himself as the lead man in Atlanta. The decision for the Falcons to bring Gurley back to the state of Georgia has the opportunity to work out perfectly for both sides. Gurley joins a potent offense with Julio, Ridley, and fellow newcomer, Hurst. With his unique skill set and elite capabilities in the backfield, Atlanta’s offense got better in the off season. 
  • Dante Fowler Jr: The Atlanta Falcons will be Fowler Jr’s 3rd team in 6 seasons, but that is not a reflection of his abilities on the field. Fowler Jr is a disruptive pass rusher that will enjoy playing on a stout Falcons defensive line. Just last season with the Los Angeles Rams, Fowler Jr. recorded 11.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Adding Fowler Jr. to Raheem Morris’ defense, is just adding another disruptive force to the defensive front seven in Atlanta. Fowler Jr. has a rare combination of speed and power and could take some pressure off of Takk McKinley on the opposite side of the line. That will allow Grady Jarrett to be the force in the middle that he is. Atlanta plays in a competitive division with a lot of skilled offensive players and systems, the athleticism across the board in the Falcon’s defense in combination with the depth from some of the younger guys creates an opportunity for a solid and fresh defensive rotation. I could see Fowler Jr recording a double digit sack season once again. 

‘Carry My Pads, Rook!’: We as fans, love the draft process. For me personally, it is probably my favorite time of the year. Every team’s best evaluators of talent collectively travel all over the country to give young men at all levels of college football a chance to achieve a dream. In April of 2020, the Falcons made some dreams come true. The Falcons selected 6 players in the draft, and then following the draft, signed 20 undrafted free agents. All of the 6 draft picks the Falcons selected will have an opportunity to see action. 

  • CB A.J. Terrell (1:16)- A lot of people around the NFL media considered Terrell a reach at 16. I am a firm believer in, ‘if you have your guy then go get him’. Terrell is an athletic All-ACC corner from Clemson in 2019 that fits with what the Falcons like at the position. Terrell projects to start opposite of Isaiah Oliver, week 1.
  • DT Marlon Davidson (2:47)- The most important athletes on the football field are the guys in the trenches. Davidson was one of my favorite prospects in the 2020 draft. In 2019, Davidson was a second-team all american and a first-team all SEC performer for the Auburn Tigers. He’s a force on the defensive line, and athletic enough to bend and penetrate the line in making plays in the backfield. He is likely to be in rotation on the defensive line, next to star Grady Jarrett. Davidson will be in rotation with Teyler Davison, a formidable run stopper. I look for Davidson to make a solid contribution to the Falcons’ defensive line in 2020.
  • OG/C Matt Hennessy (3:78)- Beefing up the offensive line and protecting veteran QB Matt Ryan was a priority this offseason for the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have veteran James Carpenter with starting experience and capable of providing some veteran depth. In the 3rd round the Atlanta Falcons selected Matt Hennessy out of Temple. Once again, another one of my favorite prospects in his position group. Hennessy showed a lot of versatility on the line for the Temple Owls. In college, he showed the ability to play both center and guard at a high level. In my ‘projected starters’ portion of this article, I plugged Matt Hennessy in at the LG position. I think he adds a great complement next to Jake Matthews and Alex Mack to create a strong left side of the line and jus edges out the veteran Carpenter. 
  • LB Mykal Walker (4:119)- The Falcons have an impactful group of linebackers manning down the middle of Raheem Morris’ defense. Led by captain Deion Jones and the emergence of Foyesade Oluokun create a solid 1-2. Newly acquired Deone Buchanon will be contributing as the Will at the second level. I look for Keanu Neal to get a lot of snaps at the Will, and even create a solid rotation to disguise coverages from the SS to the LB positions. Mykal Walker provides depth to that line backing core, and has shown a lot of promise already in camp. A lot of the reports out of camp, have been his ability to defend the passing game. Look for Walker to get a shot and contribute a lot on special teams as well. 
  • S Jaylinn Hawkins (4:134)- Jaylinn Hawkins adds to his solid college production from Cal to solid depth at the Falcons’ safety position. He should carve out a nice back up roll behind Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal, while contributing a lot on special teams. Special Teams is where coaches find the grit and the will to be better every day. I think Hawkins is the type of player that can make some noise on special teams and earn some defensive snaps. 
  • P Sterling Hofrichter (7:228)- Atlanta used its last and final draft pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Syracuse punter Sterling Hofrichter. Hofrichter ended his career at Syracuse as #1 all-time in punting yardage with 11,651 yds. As a 3 time all-acc punter and All-American athlete, Hofrichter is expected to step in day 1 as the Atlanta Falcons starting punter and will be the man coffin cornering opponents on game days. 

‘Don’t Start Nothin, Won’t Be Nothin’: Like my coach says, ‘A starter is one play’ but below are my projected starters for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020:

Offense (11 personnel: 1 RB, 3 WRs, 1 TE)

QBMatt Ryan
RBTodd Gurley
WR1Julio Jones
WR2Calvin Ridley
WR3Justin Gage
TEHayden Hurst
LTJake Matthews
LGMatt Hennessy
CAlex Mack
RGChris Lindstrom
RTKaleb McGary

Defense (4-3 base)

LETakkarist McKinley
DTGrady Jarrett
DTTyeler Davison
REDante Fowler Jr.
WLBKeanu Neal
MLBDeion Jones
SLBFoyesade Oluokun
CBIsaiah Oliver
CBA.J. Terrell
SSRicardo Allen
FSDamontae Kazee

Special Teams Unit

KYounghoe Koo
PSterling Hofrichter
LSJosh Harris
PRBrandon Powell
KRBrandon Powell

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