After going 4-12 the year prior, the Falcons benefitted from instant-impact veterans brought in by Fontenot. As the Falcons enter year two of a new era for the franchise on the heels of what seems to be another positive offseason, they'll need similar impacts in order to improve on the seven-win mark from last season.
However, Atlanta has several key players returning from last year, and three have set themselves up to be the team's MVP in 2022.
3. RB Cordarrelle Patterson
Patterson was arguably Atlanta's most important offensive weapon last season. In the six quarters he missed in mid-November, Atlanta's offense didn't score a single point.
A six-time All-Pro return specialist, Patterson turned in a breakout campaign offensively that featured him becoming the first player in Falcons history to record five rushing and receiving touchdowns in one season.
Additionally, Patterson posted career highs in rushing (618) and receiving (548) yards, all while making the full-time transition to running back in a new offense.
The 31-year-old Tennessee star's playmaking ability was on full display, and he's carved out a clear role in the Falcons' offense. Patterson signed a two-year contract with the team this offseason and is poised to post big numbers in his second season in Atlanta.
2. CB A.J. Terrell
Perhaps the biggest development from the Falcons' 2021 season was the play of Terrell, who established himself as one of the NFL's best young corners en route to a second-team All-Pro nod.
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It can be difficult for shutdown cornerbacks to post the numbers necessary to qualify as team MVP, but Terrell's down-to-down impact locking up his side of the field is more than enough to put him near the top of the leaderboard.
Now entering year three, the 23-year-old Atlanta native has a veteran presence across from him in cornerback Casey Hayward, which may result in more targets Terrell's way. While quarterbacks largely avoided the former Clemson Tiger, Terrell still posted three interceptions and 16 passes defended last season.
Atlanta's defense largely struggled a year ago, but Terrell still managed to shine. With his caliber of play no longer a secret, the Falcons will look for Terrell to grow into a leader in the secondary, elevating the unit to new heights.
1. TE Kyle Pitts
If Terrell's emergence into elite corner wasn't the biggest bright spot, it was Pitts' assertion that Atlanta made the right choice passing on a quarterback in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Posting the second-most receiving yards among rookie tight ends in NFL history, Pitts will start his second season at just 21 years old and is already viewed as one of the top players at his position.
At 6-6, 246 pounds, the "unicorn" has a special blend of traits and has proven he can produce at a high level. For Falcons quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder, Pitts' catch radius makes him a safety valve; even if he's covered, he still has a chance to come down with it due to his size and skill at the catch point.
Moving forward, Pitts will be relied upon as Atlanta's top target, though the team added substantial talent around him, including first-round USC receiver Drake London. For the Falcons to continue their upward trajectory as a franchise, Pitts must establish himself as an elite weapon, uplifting the offense around him.
Smith loves involving his tight ends in the passing game, and with Pitts' ability to line up anywhere from outside to in-line, he should get favorable matchups throughout his second campaign. From there, it's on the Pro Bowler to win his battles and take his game - and team - to the next level.