Biggest surprise of Falcons 2022 season thus far

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Coming into the season, the Falcons were considered to be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft cycle. Through four weeks of the season, Atlanta is far outpacing those expectations as the club currently sits atop the NFC South, tied with the Buccaneers at 2-2. The Falcons will travel to Tampa Bay this Sunday for sole possession of the division about a quarter of the way through the season. So, I thought it would be the perfect time to hand out some recognition.

There are a few players that deserve praise. Drake London was the highest-drafted receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, so expectations were already high. But the USC product has blown Falcons fans away in his first few games. London has been targeted 32 times and hauled in 18 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, including a two-point conversion. He’s lived up to the hype, which is surprising given Marcus Mariota is throwing him passes.

Ta’Quon Graham has been another breakout player for the Falcons, and it’s been in an area the team has struggled with for a long time. Graham has consistently shown up using his quickness, length, and raw power to disrupt opposing offenses in both the run and pass game. His pass rush arsenal isn’t quite where it needs to be, but I’m sure it’ll come eventually. He’s had the most impressive second-year jump among the 2021 rookie class.

But the surprise of the season thus far has to be Kaleb McGaryAfter not having his fifth-year option exercised, Atlanta’s former first-round pick has looked like a completely different player this season. It’s the biggest surprise because he’s in his fourth season as a pro and made little progress in his development in the prior three seasons. During the offseason, Arthur Smith, who doesn’t throw around compliments too often, had this to say about the fourth-year right tackle.

“I’m proud of Kaleb.”

“He has come a long way.”

“He’s playing some pretty good football right now.”

McGary was among the worst pass protectors in the league last year, but coming back to Flowery Branch with a different mentality and in the best shape of his life has completely turned things around for him. His position coach took notice as well a few months ago.

“I know this is only my second camp with him, but it’s the best camp I know I’ve seen from him,” Dwayne Ledford said. “I know other people have said that as well.”

There are tangible results, and the offense’s success can primarily be credited to the offensive line’s drastic improvement; it’s been the primary catalyst of Smith’s unit ranking near the top in most offensive metrics — ranking ninth in the league in scoring (25.9 points per game).

Three of the Falcons’ five highest-graded offensive players from last week came along the line — McGary being one of them. Atlanta’s starting five leads the entire league in yards before first contact per rush attempt (2.64) and ranks fifth in the league on true pass sets through Week 4 by PFF — no play action, no screens, etc.

Outside of a less-than-stellar performance against the Rams in Week 2, McGary has been excellent. In the season opener against the Saints, he was the fifth-highest-graded offensive player, and he was the third-highest-graded player on the entire team in Week 4 against the Browns. His play was so outstanding last week that he earned PFF’s Team of the Week honors, along with teammate Chris Lindstrom. The pair have been dominant along the right side. According to Next Gen Stats via the team’s website, Tyler Allgeier and Caleb Huntley combined to rush nine times for 97 yards on outside rushes to the right side.

Kaleb McGary has been a pleasant surprise. He’s easily the most shocking development for the Falcons in 2022.

Photographer: Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

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