4. Both Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu each catch for over 1,000 yards
There were not too many people who were thrilled when the Falcons signed Mohammed Sanu two offseason ago to a five-year deal worth over $30 million. Most viewed it as a massive overpay for a receiver who was far down the Bengals depth chart. However, Sanu proved all of his naysayers wrong in his first season with Atlanta, proving to be the perfect compliment to star receiver Julio Jones. Sanu caught 59 passes for 693 yards last season. It is virtually a guarantee Julio catches for over 1,000 yard providing he is healthy for at least twelve games. Sanu on the other hand has never had over 800 receiving yards in a season. That is going to change, as I believe he will crack the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career. All reports are indicating that Sanu is looking the best he ever has this offseason and his chemistry with Matt Ryan will only be better in his second season with the Falcons. Look for both of these receivers to have monster seasons in 2017.
3. Matt Ryan will eclipse the 5,000 yard mark
Think Matt Ryan will slow down after winning his first MVP award? Think again. It has not happened yet in Ryan’s illustrious career, but 2017 will be the year it finally does. He was only 56 yards off a season ago, and while it is hard to say he will have a more efficient season than he did a year ago, it is just a matter of time before he reaches this particular milestone in a single season. He has all the weapons in the world to do it and will be a man on a mission in 2017.
2. The Falcons defense will finish in the top 5 of scoring defense
I was going to say top 10, but that would not be bold enough for this group. Dan Quinn has built this defense from the ground up. Piecing it together player by player, and this year’s Falcons defense is ready show just how far they have come over the last three seasons. When you look at it, there are not any holes in this unit. The defensive line will be elite this season because of additions like Dontari Poe, Takkarist McKinley and Jack Crawford, as well as the progression of third year players Vic Beasley Jr. and Grady Jarrett. The secondary is in a similar situation with pro-bowl corner Desmond Trufant returning to the lineup after missing the second half of last season. Second year players like Keanu Neal and Brian Poole will also benefit from a year of experience. The linebacking core is the weakest link, but both Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell made huge strides over the course of their rookie seasons. They should be much more consistent this season, and the addition of third-round pick Duke Riley could be a pleasant surprise. Riley is a similar linebacker to Jones that is also from LSU. This defense is fast, physical and more than anything, loaded. The hardest part for them reaching this goal might be that fact that teams are going to have to try and keep scoring to keep up with the Falcons offense, but good luck.
1. Grady Jarrett will lead the team in sacks
No, this new and improved defense will not be led by last year’s NFL sack leader Vic Beasley Jr.. It will be former fifth-round pick and Beasley’s Clemson teammate that will be the anchor of this year’s Falcon defense. Jarrett showed flashes of elite potential in both games against Seattle and of course the Super Bowl, where he had three sacks alone. On the regular season, Jarrett only had three sacks last season. I expect him to triple that and finish with about nine sacks on the season. Now, Vic Beasley Jr. had 15.5 sacks a year ago. He will still be a force to deal with on the outside, but due to a more concerted effort to gameplay around him, I will put him just a notch below Jarrett at 8.5 sacks. There will be a lot more depth this year on the defensive line, and the pass rush will come from more of a committee this season rather than just primarily Beasley.