This third part of highlighting the superlative winners through the season’s midpoint will look at which players have made the most improvement, as well as that which has disappointed the most.
Most Improved Player: Jonathan Massaquoi
This was really a toss-up since there are cases to be made for two obvious choices: Antone Smith and Massaquoi.
But in the case of Smith, his increased impact this year may not be due to the fact that he’s actually improved as a player. Instead, it may be merely a result of getting increased opportunities to show the player that he has arguably always been. A year ago, Smith touched the ball only seven times on offense, yet gained 155 total yards, an average of 22.1 yards per touch. That figure has dropped somewhat this year, averaging 17.1 yards on 31 offensive touches.
The case for Massaquoi is that he has shown improvement in his play from a year ago. Through much of 2013, he looked a bit overmatched due to being pressed into the lineup thanks to a season-ending injury to Kroy Biermann. Fast forward to 2014, and now it seems that a season-ending injury to Biermann would be a problem some would welcome in order to have Massaquoi get those increased reps.
Similar to Smith in both the past and present, it seems that the biggest thing holding Massaquoi back is a lack of playing time versus ability.
Most Disappointing Player: Roddy White
The 2014 Atlanta Falcons are chock full of disappointing players, making it difficult to choose just one. However, whittling it down to two however is fairly easy.
White and linebacker Paul Worrilow stand out from amongst the crowd. Since Worrilow is merely a second-year and former undrafted player, expectations weren’t nearly as high for him as they were for White this season.
A severe knee injury might be ultimately to blame for White’s limited production and impact through the first eight games this year. While the Falcons did their best to mask the injury throughout the offseason and nobody from White or the organization have tried to use it as an excuse for his problems this year, it’s clearly a problem.
White simply is not able to move or change direction to enough of a degree to gain separation from even the league’s lesser cornerbacks, such as former Falcon Dominique Franks in Week 7’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Age certainly is beginning to catch up to White, but there’s no reason to believe that the dramatic drop-off in his play from the end of last season to this year is merely because he’s nine months older. The knee and/or other injuries have to be blamed for what seems to be a night and day difference in White’s play.
Yet nonetheless, it’s hard not to give White this “dishonor.” Counted among the team’s top players, his lack of presence is a major cause for why the Falcons offense has taken a slide this year and thus the team overall.