The NFC South has easily become a division to watch, with an overflow of talent being made much more so by the addition of six-time Super Bowl winning quarterback Tom Brady joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. This only makes winning the division that much more difficult for the Atlanta Falcons, but they didn't enter training camp unprepared. They walked away from free agency with Todd Gurley in tow, and added a strong draft haul to their efforts, led by first-round pick A.J. Terrell.
All told, the Falcons will have every chance to unseat the New Orleans Saints atop the division and to give Brady a hard time, but they'll truly have to fire on all cylinders to make it happen. The good news is, in addition to the aforementioned moves and several others, quarterback Matt Ryan hasn't been sitting on his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of minicamps around the league.
, both incumbent and newcomers, getting chemistry aligned before training camp rolled around in late July. And with camp now underway, the goal is to refine what they've already started, potentially en route to challenging or the NFC South crown.
If these three bold predictions come to fruition, the Saints, Buccaneers and new-look Carolina Panthers will find the Falcons are indeed back to form, and again hunting prey in 2020.
Todd Gurley secures 1,800-plus scrimmage yards
Believe it or don't, but Gurley still has the juice.
Los Angeles Rams was ultimately due to a rift between he and coaching staff, primarily head coach Sean McVay, who repeatedly scaled back Gurley's utilization -- much to the chagrin of the three-time All-Pro., a fresh start that also happens to serve as a homecoming for the University of Georgia legend will do him a lot of good. It's easy to assume Gurley has somehow fallen off, but it's strange to land at that conclusion when considering what he's done as of late. The reality is his split with the
Now in Atlanta on a one-year deal, Falcons look to use him early and often -- to be the bell cow back he's proven he can be. That will take pressure off of former league MVP Matt Ryan to do it all, but also adds another weapon in the passing attack, considering Gurley has always additionally been dynamic in that respect. Those who are worried about Gurley's alleged knee issue should note both , and he's also coming off of a 2019 season that saw him produce 1,064 yards from scrimmage with 14 touchdowns in 15 starts., because the
Considering those numbers were also produced in split duty,, but instead hints at a Rams team eyeing a future that's less expensive than the contract he was tied to. In any event, at his best, Gurley broke the 2,000-yard scrimmage mark and is only one year removed from 1,831 yards from scrimmage and a career-high 21 touchdowns.
The situation in Atlanta is ready-made for him to finish with similar production in 2020, in a year that will likely see one of the best in the game.
Calvin Ridley reels in 1,100 yards
There's not a new sheriff in town, but the deputy is almost as dangerous.
With the addition of Gurley to an offensive that also features arguably the best wide receiver in all of football, namely Julio Jones, opposing defenses will find it impossible to key in on each of the Falcons' weapons. Additionally, Ryan is still a top-tier quarterback who can carve up an opponent, and this all works in the favor of Ridley as he enters Year 3, having often shown flashes of what he's capable of; but what he might be able to pull off in 2020 would truly send the Falcons soaring. The former first-round pick racked up 1,687 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns in his first 29 games and with only 15 starts, hinting at what's to come when he's tasked with doing more.
As defenses do what they can to stop Julio Jones, Ridley is set up for an explosive season to come, and one that could see the Falcons field two 1,000-yard receivers for the first time since 2012. It was Jones and Ring of Honor inductee Roddy White matching each other's serve that season -- in Jones' second year -- a construct the Falcons were again aiming for when they selected Ridley in 2018. Eight years after Jones and White provided Ryan a lethal duo that also fed off of tight end dominance (Tony Gonzalez) and a dynamic halfback (Michael Turner), the archetype for the Falcons offense feels eerily similar to the one that went 13-3.
If nothing else, it all but guarantees Ridley can join Jones in the 1,000-yard club this season, and that the Falcons offense will be more than a handful.
A.J. Terrell challenges for DROY honors
From the frying pan right into the fire.
Terrell was tasked with being the top cornerback for Clemson in what's become a meat grinder conference as of late, helping to keep the Tigers dominant defensively. For a team like the Falcons, who desperately need a shutdown corner, it only made sense to select the First-Team All-ACC talent with the 16th-overall pick, considering both Jeff Okudah and C.J. Henderson -- the latter they targeted heavily alongside Terrell -- having been selected several picks prior. Terrell isn't being viewed as any sort of consolation prize, but instead a player who'll be looked at to hit the ground running from Day 1 in Flowery Branch.
And he better, considering both Drew Brees and Tom Brady are in his division, with both tied to an explosive passing attack.
There will be no shortage of playing time and, therefore, no shortage of opportunities for him to make plays. As the top corner for the Falcons, he'll see a ton of targets in his attempts to cover the opposing team's primary receiver, and while you can bet he'll have some growing pains -- he also has the ability to shorten his NFL learning curve. What also helps is the return of Keanu Neal from injury and the progression of Damontae Kazee to level up the safety unit, and while Isaiah Oliver didn't grab any interceptions in his second year -- he had 11 pass breakups and has 18 in his two-year career.
If Oliver can turn the corner in the INT category, he'll be a dynamic complement to Terrell, as the latter works to replace the departed Desmond Trufant. It's a tall ask of Terrell, yes, but he was bred in the crucible of Clemson and is not naive to the expectations that come with being a 16th-overall pick, and the third defensive back off the board. He's champing at the bit to make a run at Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and will have to go through Okudah, Henderson and other worthy adversaries to make it happen, but he'll get his chance to shine immediately.
Keep your eyes on this rookie.