Since their appearance in Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons have a combined record of 24-24 and have failed to reach the postseason in two of the last three seasons. If the team wants to get back to being true contenders in the NFC, several players will have to take their games to the next level.
Whether it be increased playing time due to a free agent departure or a fresh start with a new team, these Falcons players are prime candidates to break out in 2020.
Drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, Hurst was supposed to be one of the NFL’s next star tight ends. However, Hurst would see his role be overtaken by Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle throughout his first two seasons.
In March, after losing Pro Bowl tight end Austin Hooper in free agency, the Falcons went out and acquired Hurst and a 2020 fourth-round pick from the Ravens for a pair of draft picks.
With Hooper gone, someone needs to step up and although he has only recorded a combined 512 yards and three TDs in two seasons, the Falcons give Hurst the perfect opportunity for the third-year pro to break out.
With former Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant now with the Detroit Lions, someone will need to step up as the team’s No. 1 corner. Yes, Atlanta did draft Clemson CB A.J. Terrell in the first round this year but I’m going to bet on the guy who started all 16 games last year.
The Falcons pass defense did get gashed many times last year but Oliver was solid throughout most of the season. The 6-foot, 210-pound corner out of Colorado recorded 62 tackles, a team-high 11 passes defended and one forced fumble and due to the team’s overall need at the position, the opportunity is certainly there for Oliver.
This feels like a make or break season for the former UCLA star as the Falcons decided to decline his fifth-year option making him a free agent after the 2020 season. The 2017 first-round pick started his career off well recording 13 combined sacks in his first two seasons. This is even more impressive when you see that the pass rush specialist had only started eight games during that time.
However, McKinley’s production took a step back last season as he was only able to put up 3.5 sacks in 14 games (11 starts).
Like the others on this list, McKinley’s role should increase as a result of another player leaving (in this case, Vic Beasley). The team did sign Dante Fowler to upgrade the pass rush but on what is now a contract year, look for McKinley to get back to his old form.