After looking at the Atlanta Falcons’s most valuable players, it’s time to look at the new additions that helped the team the most through the first half of the 2015 season.
Rookie of the Year: Vic Beasley
High expectations were put on the Falcons first-round pick out of Clemson this year and while he has not always lived up to them, he certainly qualifies as the team’s top rookie through the first eight games of 2015.
That honor could have rested on running back Tevin Coleman, had he not suffered a rib injury that sidelined him for two weeks. Coleman began the season as a starter and looked promising as the team’s lead tailback, until his injury allowed Devonta Freeman to leapfrog him. Freeman currently leads the NFL in rushing, likely pushing Coleman on the bench permanently for the rest of the season.
That leaves Beasley as the obvious choice. The rookie defensive end has started every game and is tied for the team lead with a pair of sacks. Unfortunately there has been some recent backlash over Beasley’s development as his two sacks came in the first three games and he has been shut out over the past five weeks despite seeing a downtick in the level of competition at offensive tackle.
But Beasley could just as easily see his production climb over the second half of the season and could be a pivotal piece to improving a Falcons pass rush that currently ranks 31st in sack production.
Top Newcomer: Justin Durant
Along with new head coach Dan Quinn, the Falcons brought in a number of veteran players to help proctor in the changes he sought to bring to the team. That allows for multiple possibilities for this midseason superlative, honoring the top non-rookie addition to the roster.
While guards Chris Chester and Andy Levitre have helped solidify what appeared to be a weak Falcons offensive line this summer, neither have had quite the level of consistency, particularly in pass protection to nab this award.
Leonard Hankerson has become the team’s de facto No. 2 wide receiver, but his inconsistent hands have prevented him from truly maximizing his potential as a complement to Julio Jones.
Pass-rush specialist Adrian Clayborn has helped improve a Falcons pass rush, but as noted above, it still hasn’t quite reached the levels to suggest that his addition has brought in sweeping results.
Tight end Jacob Tamme has increasingly become more relied upon in the passing game during the first half of the season, and might be the best among the aforementioned candidates to snag the honor by year’s end at his current pace.
But in the meantime, the honor goes to linebacker Justin Durant, who has become one of the team’s defensive leaders and more reliable competitors on the defensive side of the ball. There’s no denying that Durant has become the team’s top linebacker and was leading the team in tackles through the first three games until an elbow injury sidelined him against the Houston Texans. It caused him to miss one more game, but he’s since come back and re-established himself as the teams’ top playmaker at the position.
Durant’s instincts and awareness have been critical to his success, able to chase down ballcarriers and make critical tackles in the open field more often than not. While his coverage has been a liability at times, his presence in the running game is a key reason why the Falcons defense currently ranks third against the run through the first half of the season.
The Falcons will continue to value him as the second half of the year gets under way due to his leadership and experience.