1. Matt Ryan: What a season this guy has put together. For so long, people have questioned his mental toughness and his ability to spread the ball around to other receivers. It’s always been Matt throwing it to either Julio Jones, Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez before he decided to call it a career. This year, he was able to spread the football around and ended up having the best season of his career and is the projected front-runner for league MVP. His performance in the playoffs this year reminds me of Joe Flacco in 2013 and we saw what the ending result was.
2. Julio Jones: This guy is the best wide receiver in football right now and he has the same type of impact on defenses that Calvin Johnson had back when he played. He’s your typical vertical threat but is able to do so much more. He plays what I describe as “grown man football” meaning he goes up to get the ball and will grab it as if he were grabbing a rebound. He had the best game of his career against Carolina during the regular season: 12 receptions and 300 yards and it’s rare to see a receiver these days eclipse the 300-yard mark. He’s a nightmare to prepare for defensively.
3. Devonta Freeman: I was sold on him during the 2015 season and I can officially say I’m a fan of his. I love his game and how he runs. He’s the mix of a power and finesse back. He’s able to make guys miss in the open field when he can burst through the tackles and he has the choice to cut on a dime and make the defender miss or he can lower that shoulder and bulldoze anyone in his path. He’s also a big part of the passing game as he’s able to catch the ball on halfback screens and can be effective in any capacity. He also benefits greatly from the presence of Julio Jones with all the attention he draws which means teams don’t load the box up to stop the run.
4. Tevin Coleman: The other half of the best running back tandem in the game right now. Kyle Shanahan has used Coleman in so many ways as a runner out the backfield but I think he does his best work when he’s flanked out wide as a receiver in space to create mismatches with a linebacker or safety. He’s panned out very well in the NFL and just like his buddy Freeman, he’s also another big part of their passing game. When you focus on stopping one effective player, you then have to worry how you’ll stop the other.
5. Mohamed Sanu: The ultimate complementary piece and has no problem with being just that. He did that for A.J. Green in Cincinnati and now does that for Julio in Atlanta. He’s a guy that’s extremely shifty and is very sure-handed. He also sees a lot of single man coverage no matter where he lines up and he’s always making a big catch on third downs to convert the chains and give the offense new life. Many have called him the x-factor for these Falcons all season long.
6. Vic Beasley: I loved his game in college during his Clemson days. He’s finally become that pass rusher we expected him to be. He’s become one of the most fercious pass rushers in the game and teammate Jonathan Babineaux described him as “mild”. He’s had a great season. He led the league in sacks with 15.5, forced six fumbled, tops in the league and this is only his second year in the NFL and he’s become the Falcons best defensive player. He’s very good with his hands and he uses his speed and power to get past an offensive lineman. If he isn’t neutralized, he’s going to have a humongous game.
7. Keanu Neal: Anytime I’ve mentioned the Falcons, one of the guys I’ve always bought up has been Keanu Neal. Every defense has that “enforcer” or that guy that you don’t go over the middle on and that’s been this kid. This rookie has come in and given them some toughness. I’ve called him the Falcons version of Kam Chancellor. He’s excellent at tackling in the open field, he can get to the ball with great closing speed and he can hit and that’s the major key to being a successful safety in the game today.
8. Adrian Clayborn: He was a big part of them slowing down Aaron Rodgers and he’s a big part in the Falcons run defense. He’s not known for it, but he can rush the passer if necessary.