6 Falcons “now or never” for the 2022 season

The NFL can be a very fickle business. Players recruited by one staff suddenly find themselves led by another. Success one week is followed by injury the next. In a moment there is a high, followed by an onslaught of lows.

Time in this league and profession is fleeting for most of those chasing glory on the grill. It’s not always fair, but that’s the nature of the beast, and it’s something players are well aware of.

For this simple fact, time starts ticking the moment a player hears his name being called in the draft. Can this player make an impact like a rookie? How about a 2 year jump to a titular role? Is his third year finally the time he puts it all together? These are the questions that players follow at the start of their careers. While Cordarrelle Patterson is a great example of a career-ending breakthrough, not everyone has an elite skill set they can rely on for a long time in the league like he did.

For most players, success must come early in their career to secure a future with the team that chose them. The Falcons are looking for answers in most positions on their roster in 2022, and there are some players for whom this may be their last best chance to solidify a long-term role here in Atlanta. Let’s take a look at some nominees now or never for the 2022 season.

RT Kaleb McGary | Entering 4th season

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Atlanta already sent a first-round pick-up message when it refused to pick up McGary’s fifth-year option last offseason. This makes 2022 a contract year for the polarizing right tackle. I haven’t been shy about my belief that McGary isn’t the biggest problem Atlanta has up front, but he needs to start proving that he can be a solution to moving forward.

There are times McGary is on the move where he looks like a frantic man on a mission, unsure of where he’s going and determined to run through whatever comes his way. McGary needs to show more as a run blocker this fall. In pass protection, his limited agility will always make things difficult against pure speed players, but he has shown flashes of grandeur against power rusher like Cameron Jordan. His ability to pull it all together in his fourth season will make or break his future here in Atlanta.

CB Isaiah Oliver | Entering 5th season

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Expectations towards 2022 may be higher for Oliver than at any time other than his rookie season after he showed upscale gaming glimpses in the slot for Dean Pees last season. Unfortunately, a knee injury against Washington – after arguably the best game of his career – has disrupted his 2021 campaign. The Falcons have shown some confidence in Oliver by bringing him back on a one-year contract, although this is an opportunity to prove it more than a great show of confidence.

As the league begins to shift towards a preference for older nickel players who still possess strong hedging ability, Oliver could probably fit that bill. He is an excellent communicator, a valuable skill near the scrimmage line, and displays a natural instinct as a running defender. Although he has corner covering skills, Oliver has struggled on the side streets his entire career and thinks he sees more than those in the slot. The coaches seem confident that Oliver can be the solution in the slot, but he will have to agree with them.

LB Rashaan Evans | Entering 5th season

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A newcomer to the Falcons ‘roster, Evans’ inclusion on this list may come as a surprise to some. Typically, a player who hasn’t played a single down for his new team yet wouldn’t have a designation like this, but his familiarity with Pees changes things a bit. Evans, a former first-round pick, was enlisted by the Tennessee Titans in 2018 for a role in defending Pees in mind. Her most productive season came in 2019 – Evans’ first full year as a starter – when she recorded 111 tackles, 9 tackles for a 2.5 sack defeat and a defensive touchdown.

This shows that Pees knows how to use Evans. Evans’ drop in production since Pees retired in 2020 shows he may be a better fit for that particular scheme and coach. If that’s true, it’s entirely possible that Evans might have a short leash, especially given the number of new faces here at the linebacker for Atlanta. Pees should know what he’s looking for in Evans and will want to see it right away as the veteran can help set an example for younger players. I’m excited about what Evans can bring to this group, but I think the Falcons want immediate returns here.

C Matt Hennessy | Entering 3rd season

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Hennessy enters his third retreat in direct competition with second-year center Drew Dalman for the title holder. Now, it’s not entirely different from last year’s camp, and Dalman made his way into a rotation at the end of last season, setting the stage for the competition to come. Hennessy looked solid as a blocker in his first year as a starter but struggled to protect Matt Ryan, giving up three layoffs and 32 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.

The improvement of Hennessy or Dalman and second-year guard Jalen Mayfield – who is not on this list – will be crucial for Atlanta to find more consistency in attack. Although getting more mobility behind the center could help achieve this as well. Hennessy has the tools to become a good hit in a move-based scheme, and he has had enough flash in the running game to justify some optimism.

DL Marlon Davidson | Entering 3rd season

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When I first heard Davidson exclaim loudly from his podium at the NFL Combine in February 2020 – wow, how things have changed – that he loved football because he could legally commit acts of violence against other people, I was at the very least. intrigued by the idea, he looks at what his career would be like. And I can’t say I wasn’t thrilled when I learned the career was going to be in Atlanta. However, I didn’t expect his career wouldn’t be very significant during his first two years.

Davidson struggled with injuries in each of his first two seasons, which limited him to just 402 shots during that time. He only started one game in 2021 – week 9 in New Orleans – and has a layoff to name him. Now, he also has one of my favorite recent defensive touchdowns, so that’s a big plus for him. Davidson is still young enough to inspire the belief that things can change, but as Atlanta refocuses his defense, he needs to make his presence felt or risk being left on the outside to look inward.

WR Olamide Zaccheaus | Entering 4th season

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I begin by saying that this place for Zaccheaus is highly unfair. He has largely done everything the Falcons have asked of him so far in three seasons. This point, however, is more about the opportunity he faces to move up another level, something I don’t think Russell Gage has been given enough credit for doing it in subsequent seasons. Zacchaeus he also has the confidence of this technical staffwhich should amount to a dignified role in this crime.

Zaccheaus had a career year last season, receiving 31 passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns. In his second year on the program, there is potentially more on the table for Zaccheaus. Gage was able to take advantage of his opportunities to become a legitimate No. 2 – and sometimes n. 1 – for this offense. Can Zaccheaus take another step in his evolution? This year could be his best chance.

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