Prediction time? Prediction time.
After reading Daniel Cox's latest column on the mothership and ruminating on the cornerback depth chart, I'm ready to call Dominique Franks as a starter in 2012.
Franks' chief hurdle—assuming that Brent Grimes does not return to Atlanta, because if he does it would be a high hurdle indeed—would be Chris Owens. Owens has performed pretty well playing outside in his Falcons career and has been less effective out of the nickel, but I think a more aggressive scheme will play to both of their strengths. It's likely the two will rotate snaps outside, with a slightly larger percentage of them going to Franks.
Why, exactly? Because even though he was selected later in the draft, I think Franks has the higher upside out of the two. He's a bigger, more physical guy who matches up better against some of the rangy wide receivers in the NFL today, and his instincts are excellent. As Cox noted, Franks was defensing passes and making picks like a machine at the end of the season, and the progress he has made is apparent. The next step for him, really, is to take better angles to the ball carrier and not get turned around.
Ideally, Franks would matchup with bigger, more physical wide receivers out wide and get a chance to test his ballhawking skills against them. I figured he'd be a starter by 2012 or 2013, and I think he's probably ready to take on that role now. Mike Nolan's aggressive schemes should help him take another big step forward this year. Owens' speed should make him an asset anywhere on the field, as well, so Nolan likely won't be afraid to plug him in the nickel in something more closely resembling man defense.
I'm excited about both players, frankly. Do you think Franks will start?