After an injury-plagued season, the Atlanta Falcons decided to flip the script and start over, hiring former Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. It didn’t stop there, though. The team also expanded Dan Quinn’s role; adding defensive coordinator to his list of duties. Finally, Ben Kotwica was brought in to be special teams coordinator. With these moves, the Falcons now have former head coaches at the three coordinator positions.
Isaiah Oliver, Cornerback
Oliver was the Falcons second-round draft pick in 2018 out of Colorado. Coming out of college he was labeled as a big cornerback who did well in press coverage. Concerns about his strength and straight-line speed meant he fell to the end of the second round where the Falcons lucked into him.
Last season was mostly a redshirt year for Oliver as he didn’t get a massive amount of playing time. In 14 games, he started just two times, had one interception and seven pass deflections.
Now in his second year, Oliver is slated to be the starter at the right cornerback position. Having Desmond Trufant on the opposite side of him should provide Oliver with plenty of opportunities to showcase his skills. With impressive size and length for the position, on top of his natural ball skills, Oliver has the chance to make a significant impact in 2019.
Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver
Not many rookies start their career in the league the way Ridley did. By the end of Week 4 of the 2018 season, Ridley already had 264 yards and an impressive six touchdowns. The rest of his season was up and down in terms of week-to-week production, but the development as the season progressed was evident. Ridley ended his rookie year with 821 yards and 10 touchdowns, finishing the season as the rookie receiving leader in yards and touchdowns. Ridley became one of just nine rookies to manage 10 touchdowns in their rookie year since the NFL merger in 1970.
Last year Ridley started out as the number three receiver for the Atlanta Falcons but pushed for the number two spot in the offense early. Now entering his second year, he should have the chance to make a splash as the guy opposite Julio Jones. A good camp and preseason showing should only cement his targets in this offense.
Part of Ridley’s early success in the league was due to his advanced route running skills for a player exiting college. That, his speed and his separation ability helped him challenge corners and get open early in the NFL. Reports from OTAs thus far point towards a good work ethic and Ridley playing faster. For him to reach his ceiling and continue his improvement this season, he must focus on the little things and perfecting them.
Takkarist McKinley, Defensive End
McKinley is entering his third year in the league. Traditionally this is the deciding time for how well a draft pick has planned out. Thus far, McKinley has played well but hasn’t produced the numbers many expect and want him to. In two years in the league, he has recorded 13 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. His rookie year he had six sacks and then managed seven in 2019.
However, we got a glimpse at the most interesting element in McKinley’s development at Falcons OTAs. During early workouts, the team has been utilizing McKinley out at linebacker. The team notes that his added versatility will only help the defense. While that is undoubtedly true, before changing his role, the Falcons should perhaps focus on development at his original position.
The Atlanta Falcons ranked 22nd in pass rush last season, which is far below expectations. Finding a good pass rush has been a long time in the making for the Falcons. McKinley is currently the best pure pass rusher on the Falcons roster. Therefore, a breakout year for him would go along way towards getting success from this defense.
With a new coaching staff in place and a strong roster, the Falcons have plenty of talented players at several positions. The next step in the equation is developing and correctly utilizing these talents. With Oliver making the leap into a starting role this upcoming season, his development must take a big step. However, the Atlanta Falcons also need to continue the development of both Ridley and McKinley. If the team is going to make a run this year, the Falcons breakout candidates need to be a crucial part of that.