By placing a strong emphasis on player development, the Atlanta Falcons have put multiple players into position to break out this season. After finishing in the top 10 on defense in 2017, this young defense could find themselves elevated to a top 5 defense. Here is a look at three players who look ready to take that next step in 2018.
Neal, who is thought to be one of the top enforcers at the safety position in the NFL could be due for his best year yet. Although the new NFL rules have impacted the way players can hit, I do not see this as a hindrance to Neal’s play. The new rule, may, in fact, be a positive in his game because he may be able to make more plays on the ball rather than go for the big hit. This has always been one of his biggest knocks, and coach Quinn emphasized at the end of 2017 that he would like to see Neal keep his head up more and make more plays on the ball. In two seasons, Neal has accumulated 222 tackles and 8 forced fumbles. I can see this season being Neal’s best yet, and as he said: “The sky is the limit for this defense.”
Stat Predictions: 125 Tackles, 1 Sack, 4 Forced Fumbles, 2 Interceptions
Jones has racked up 246 tackles, six interceptions, and two touchdowns in his first two seasons. Rated as Pro Football Focus’ top coverage linebacker in 2017 do not be surprised to see Jones take that next step as an All-Pro linebacker this season. Jones, who is only 23 has already established himself as one of the leagues best at his position. The key focus for him this offseason is bulking up and improving his technique within the trenches. Similar to Keanu Neal this season could be the staple of Jones’ career.
Stat Predictions: 150 tackles, 4 Interceptions, 2 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles
One player that all Falcons fans are extremely excited about heading into the 2018 season, is Takk McKinley. In 15 games, McKinley managed to sack the quarterback six times and forced two fumbles. If there is one thing that we never have to question with McKinley is his hustle on the field. In a small sample, we saw a very explosive player, who has potential to cause major problems for opposing quarterbacks. That production we saw at the end of 2017, could easily transition into this season. McKinley reminds me a lot of Michael Bennett and soon we may see those similarities on the field.
Stat Predictions: 40 Tackles, 10 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
This Falcons defense is by far the best one I have ever seen. A unit that was regularly ranked in the bottom half of the league, has found its way. Dan Quinn has stuck to his guns and now the defense is at its all-time best. These three players are just a small sample of talent that the Falcons hold on defense. Year four under Dan Quinn shows that the sky really is the limit for the Falcons.