Editor's note: This is the fourth story in a 10-part series counting down the top 10 Atlanta Falcons players our writers believe are most likely to have a breakout season in 2020. The definition of breakout, for the purpose of this list, is a player who shows sudden significant improvement.
The Falcons need their offensive line to take a step forward in both consistency and ability if they are to reach their ceiling, offensively. Perhaps no player could have as much of an impact in making that happen than rookie Matt Hennessy.
Now, that's a lot to put on a rookie, but there are a few reasons to believe that Hennessy is capable of offering an upgrade at left guard in Year 1 for Atlanta. If Hennessy does indeed have a breakout year this fall, the Falcons offensive line should be an improved unit and the offense should once again be among the very best in the league.
TOP 10 BREAKOUT SEASON COUNTDOWN
Body of work
Although Hennessy has yet to play a single snap in the NFL, and that's something that should not be overlooked, he's drawn favorable comparisons to Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. After watching some of his film from playing at Temple, those comparisons are fairly apt.
Hennessy is a player who moves extremely well, which is something the Falcons will likely appreciate as they hope to run more outside zone plays. Newly acquired running back Todd Gurley is one of the best outside zone runners in the league, but that scheme requires athleticism up front along the offensive line to make it happen.
Despite playing center at Temple, Hennessy has a lot of athleticism for an offensive lineman. According to mockdraftable.com, Hennessy's 3-cone drill time of 7.45 seconds puts him in the 88th percentile of NFL offensive linemen, and his 20-yard shuttle of 4.6 seconds puts him in the 75th percentile. The Falcons offense is often at its best when the offensive line can make blocks on the move and get to the second level. Hennessy's past suggests he can do both.
Poised for a breakout
Although many are projecting Hennessy to be the future option at center for the Falcons, coach Dan Quinn has stated he will get a crack at earning the starting left guard spot for the 2020 season. If Hennessy is able to beat out the likes of veterans James Carpenter and Jamon Brown at left guard, and prove to have more upside than Matt Gono, then it's a safe bet Atlanta is high on his potential as a player in this league.
Hennessy will benefit tremendously from working alongside Mack, a player who he specifically studied while playing center at Temple, and there are few players better to learn from in this league. If Hennessey can do more than earn a starting spot as a rookie but actually play with consistency and poise in his first year, the implications could be huge for Atlanta.
The Falcons are betting on 2019 first-round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary taking a step forward this fall. Even a full season of play from Lindstrom, who missed all but five games last season due to an injury, should help the offensive line perform at a higher level. If Lindstrom and McGary can elevate their games, however, and Hennessy does prove to offer an upgrade at left guard, the Falcons' heavy investments in the offensive line may finally pay off.
With a unit that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Gurley, a jump forward up front could truly make Atlanta's offense one of the most feared in the league. A breakout season from Hennessy could go a long way in making that happen.
In that regard, Hennessy could be considered one of the most important players of the 2020 season.
We are counting down the top 10 Falcons players our writers believe are most likely to have a breakout season in 2020. The definition of breakout, for the purpose of this list, is a player who shows sudden significant improvement.