FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With the NFL Draft and free agency consuming much of the conversation among fans through this point in the offseason, it can be easy to forget about the players who are already on rosters throughout the league.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has often discussed his belief that players make a big leap in their development between their first and second years in the NFL and again between their second and third seasons. If that is indeed the case, CBS Sports senior writer Pete Prisco may be onto something.
In a recent piece, Prisco highlighted the 10 players he believes will have a breakout season in 2018. The first player on his list is none other than Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley.
"After a slow start, he came on strong in the second half to finish with six sacks, including five in the final seven games," Prisco writes. "He also had two in the playoffs, one in each game. That shows he figured out the nuances of being an NFL edge rusher. It's clear on tape how much more comfortable he was in the second half of the season. McKinley has the speed to be a dominant player, but he's also solid against the run. Vic Beasley led the NFL in sacks in 2016, but McKinley will be the Falcons' best pass rusher in 2018 – and one of the best in the league."
Despite being limited for a good portion of his first NFL training camp as he recovered from an injury, McKinley impressed the Falcons coaching staff once he was back to full speed. Not only did he show the speed and burst that impressed scouts while he was in college, but McKinley also displayed surprising strength that helped him become effective in a variety of ways. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end finished with six sacks in the regular season, including four over the final seven games, and he carried that momentum into the playoffs, registering a sack in both of the Falcons' postseason games.