"I feel like we're a playoff team," receiver Olamide Zaccheaus said, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We just (have) to put everything together. Really start fast at the beginning of the season and not get into a hole. I just feel like as a team, we can shock a lot of people."
The comments echo that of veteran corner Casey Hayward, who questioned immediately following the Ryan trade why the Falcons couldn't surprise people and contend. At the end of the day, players must think this way. It's the only way to get through the rigors of an NFL season.
Yes, the Falcons went 7-10 last season and weren't eliminated from the postseason until Week 16, but that record came while beating up on bad teams. Five of the seven wins came against teams drafting in the top six.
Even with Ryan, the Falcons' offense struggled, earning the fourth-fewest total yards per game in the NFL at 303.8. And the defense remained bad, allowing 27.0 points per game, tied for the third most, while earning the fewest sacks in the league.
Atlanta had a -146 point differential (28th in NFL). The seven wins were tied for the most in NFL history by a team to finish the season with a point differential of -100 or worse.
Then there is the pass-catching corps, of which Zaccheaus is the lone returning veteran. First-round pick Drake London is expected to have a big role, and ATL traded for Bryan Edwards from Vegas after he struggled to produce consistently. With KhaDarel Hodge, Auden Tate, Damiere Byrd, Geronimo Allison, Cameron Batson and Frank Darby battling for roster spots, the Falcons are employing the "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" method.
Zaccheaus is coming off a career-high 406-yard season with 31 catches and three touchdowns. The speedster is a solid contributor being asked to take on a much bigger role than he experienced in his first three seasons.
"I've been in the system for a year," Zaccheaus said. "I've been here going into my fourth year. I just kind of know how things go. So just being a resource for these guys. Help them as much as I can and answering any questions that they have."