Normally, I would have published these choices the week of the FalcFans podcast which featured Allen Strk and my picks for season-ending awards, but given the fact that the NFL has its own awards ceremony coming up this weekend, I figured I could also wait to unveil these write-ups. For those that listened to that episode of the podcast, you won’t find any changes here in my picks but will at least get more in-depth explanations for why I chose who I chose for my year-end superlatives.
Let’s start with the most valuable player on offense. I think hands down, this pick is easily wide receiver Julio Jones.
Jones was without a doubt the most important player on the entire team in 2014. When he was on the field and being regularly featured part of the offense, the Falcons at times looked virtually unstoppable. His performances against the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers in back-to-back weeks late in the season were prime displays of this ability. One could certainly argue he single-handedly won the Cardinals game, torching Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson for 10 catches, 189 yards and a touchdown. And his second-half performance against the Packers nearly allowed the Falcons to make an improbable comeback down 31-7 at halftime to end the game down 43-37. Jones finished that game with 11 catches, 259 yards and a touchdown.
But it wasn’t just those weeks. Jones came alive in the second half in the season opener against the New Orleans Saints, prompting the Falcons to claw their way back into that game and pull out a victory. He was also dominant in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sealing his nomination was how ineffective the Falcons offense appeared to be in his absence in their Week 16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In retrospect, it would seem that one could argue that the Falcons season tanked in large part because they didn’t get Jones the ball enough times in the first half of the season. Even considering that his 156 targets were the third most in the NFL last season according to premium website Pro Football Focus. Although forcing him the ball at times seemed a double-edged sword. Too often the Falcons relied on simple, predictable screens to try and manufacture touches for Jones, which led to its effectiveness decreasing dramatically by November.
But Jones’ presence was pivotal in at least two or three wins this past year, and also made the team more competitive in a handful of losses as well. Simply put, without Jones the Falcons could have easily been the worst team in football this past year.
Other players considered for this honor included quarterback Matt Ryan, guard Jon Asamoah and running back Steven Jackson.
Ryan had another productive year, but as was the case in 2013, there seemed to be a substantial drop-off between the times when he was throwing to Jones and the times he was not. It seems that in that relationship, the quarterback is benefiting much more from the presence of the wide receiver than vice versa.
Asamoah was probably the team’s most consistent offensive player from week-to-week in 2014. He began to slow down a bit towards the end of the season, although that could easily be blamed on wear and tear. He was really effective opening holes in the run game thanks to his athleticism and ability to pull into the hole and clear defenders.
Jackson also deserves credit for being consistent as well. Consistently solid instead of a “good” would be the best way to describe Jackson’s season. While Jackson never really popped, he made steady contributions throughout the season and his hard running and ability to generate yards after contact was a big reason for why the run game saw modest improvement in 2014, going from ranked 32nd the year before to 24th.
While the Falcons also saw solid performances from Jake Matthews, Justin Blalock, Joe Hawley, Ryan Schraeder and Antone Smith throughout the year, they were a bit too sporadic and sparse to really get strong consideration for this honor.