Bleacher Report and their NFL writer Kristopher Knox did another slideshow Saturday, naming one x-factor for each of the 32 NFL teams. For the Atlanta Falcons, Knox named running back Ito Smith as the team's x-factor in 2019.
Knox's slideshow is definitely worth a read, and Smith will most certainly be an important depth piece of the Falcons' backfield. But I would have gone in a different direction for the team's biggest x-factor. I would have picked beleaguered linebacker Vic Beasley.
Maybe Knox avoided Beasley because he was supposed to be a lot better than he was the last two seasons. But for that precise reason, he's my Falcons x-factor for the 2019 season. If he plays at an All-Pro level like he did in 2016, how good can this Falcons defense be? I'd venture to say a whole lot better than it was last fall.
It's not likely that Beasley will be an All-Pro again. He's managed just 10 sacks combined in the last two years, and he hasn't exactly gotten off to a good start at practices this offseason. But to me, x-factor is another synonym for difference maker. Beasley has the talent to be that difference maker in 2019. The Falcons realized that, and that's why they picked up his fifth-year option.
If he isn't an x-factor or difference maker, the likelihood the Falcons defense improves this fall is a lot slimmer. Atlanta didn't add any big playmakers to its defense in the draft or free agency. The Falcons are living and dying with Beasley as the team's best pass rusher.
As for Smith, we really don't have a clue whether he has the talent to be a difference maker. He showed flashes of nice plays, but he also averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2018.
Furthermore, Smith could be a great backup or a bust in his second season, and it probably won't be much of a difference. The Falcons are going to score points regardless. The defense, though, needs Beasley, which makes him my choice as the team's 2019 x-factor.