Earlier today, I highlighted which Atlanta Falcons players were the top performers in all three phases of the game through the first half of the 2014 season. Now, I want to look at which newcomers are standing out this year.
Rookie of the Year: Jake Matthews
This was a hard choice. While Jake Matthews started this year strong and has certainly been asked to handle a much more significant role than any other rookie from this year’s class, it’s hard to select him. His first three games he was solid, but once he injured his ankle in Week 5, his play has seen a sharp decline. So much so that, one can now argue that Matthews is the weakest link on an offensive line that is starting a pair of undrafted rookies.
Ra’Shede Hageman has made recent strides as part of the team’s rotation, but his lack of playing time and poor start to the year make it hard to choose him for this honor. That same lack of playing time also means that Devonta Freeman, Dezmen Southward, Prince Shembo, and James Stone are also hard to make cases for. So in the end, Matthews gets the nod, but probably deserves to have an asterisk beside his name simply because it’s injury that have limited him the past four games rather than true ability.
Top Newcomer: Jon Asamoah
This honors the best non-rookie to join the team, and there are plenty of positive additions the Falcons have made this year, including their most valuable player on special teams.
Nonetheless, Asamoah stands out among the rest because he has been the team’s most consistent and reliable offensive lineman. The upgrade he’s provided both in pass protection and run blocking at the right guard position has been significant from previous years. A lot of the Falcons success on the ground has come on plays where Asamoah has pulled into the hole, a reminder of the sort of impact that Harvey Dahl had at the position once upon a time when the Falcons were a run-first team.
Despite my earlier misgivings on whether the Falcons blocking scheme would cater to Asamoah’s strengths, I have been regularly impressed with his play through the first half of 2014. On a team that has rarely found success in free agency in recent years, Asamoah is one of the few standouts that buck the trend.