Underrated Falcons

June 6, 2012; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during organized team activities at the Falcons training facility. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

It is fine if the Falcons fly under the radar heading into the 2012 season. The team went into 2011 carrying the burden of lofty expectations from fans and analysts alike. However, individual Falcons players are failing to receive adequate recognition for their contributions to the team’s success last season--the team’s fourth consecutive winning season for the first time in history--which culminated in a playoff bid, and saw quarterback Matt Ryan set a new team record for single season passing yards, and running back Michael Turner break the team record for all-time rushing touchdowns.

The Falcons’ representation at the 2012 Pro Bowl and on NFL Network’s 2012 Top 100 list stands in contrast to the Falcons-dominated Pro Bowl roster from 2011 and the 2011 Top 100 list. In 2011, the team was coming off of a spectacular 13-3 season, securing the top seed in the NFC for the playoffs. Their efforts during the regular season were acknowledged with Pro Bowl roster spots as well as representation on the Top 100 list, voted on by their peers.

Not so for the 2011 squad. After the jump, some thoughts on players that were snubbed despite excellent performances in 2011, and players that should be more appropriately recognized for their efforts in the coming season.

The Falcons did have two representatives at the 2012 Pro Bowl. Tony Gonzalez was on the roster behind Saints TE Jimmy Graham. Gonzalez will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and absolutely deserved Pro Bowl recognition. Roddy White was added to the roster due to Lions WR Calvin Johnson’s injury. On the NFL Network’s Top 100 List, voted on by players, the Falcons were represented by Michael Turner at 88, Roddy White at 65, and Tony Gonzalez at 53, and each of these three players have been voted by fans as underrated on the list.

Defensive tackle Corey Peters should be recognized for his on-field contributions in 2012. Peters had a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2011, and his statistics surpassed those of Pro Bowl DT B.J. Raji of the Green Bay Packers. Peters was a force on the interior line last season, racking up three sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, one very memorable interception, three passes deflected--including one against the Lions that negated a pass interference call and may have preserved a necessary win for the Falcons--one touchdown, and one of the best touchdown celebration dances ever.

Sean Weatherspoon also put up stats in 2011 that could have justified a Pro Bowl roster spot, particularly in place of Bears LB Lance Briggs, who trailed Spoon in tackles, sacks, fumble recoveries, and passes deflected, or Vikings LB Chad Greenway, who trailed Spoon in sacks, passes deflected, and tackles for loss. With Spoon’s expanded leadership role in Mike Nolan’s defensive scheme, it is reasonable to expect that he could lock up a Pro Bowl spot and be recognized as one of the top 100 players in the league.

On offense, the lack of recognition for Matt Ryan’s success last season is difficult to accept. Ryan threw for 4,177 yards last season, with a completion rate of 61.3%. He only threw 12 interceptions. He broke the Falcons single season passing record, which I already mentioned, but it bears repeating. Ryan was not selected to the Pro Bowl, and I cannot argue that he should have been chosen over Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees. Ryan did put up better stats in some categories than Cam Newton, but I acknowledge that Newton had an exceptional rookie season. I can live with the Pro Bowl snub for Ryan. I can’t, however, accept his exclusion from the Top 100 list. Our own Caleb Rutherford covered this thoroughly and excellently earlier in the week, and you should read his take on it.

Michael Turner, recognized by his peers at #88 on the Top 100 list, was not selected to the Pro Bowl following the 2011 season, despite having more total rushing yards than any player who made the roster, and more touchdowns than both Matt Forte (who, to be fair, missed four games due to injury and did carry the Bears offense last season) and Frank Gore. It seems that Turner will continue to be a significant part of Dirk Koetter’s offense, and it is reasonable to expect that he will again contribute in such a way that would warrant more recognition than he received in 2011.

Roddy White was recognized as a Pro Bowler and #65 on the Top 100 List. Ranked 8th in the league in 2011 for receiving yards, Roddy deserved this recognition, and I expect him to limit drops this year, which will improve his standing in the eyes of Pro Bowl voters and his peers.

There are many other players that are capable of success in 2012 that could result in more appropriate Pro Bowl and peer recognition. I believe Brent Grimes would have had a Pro Bowl season and made the Top 100 List if he had not been injured in 2011, and Asante Samuel is certainly capable of putting up numbers that warrant this sort of recognition, also. I expect 2012 to be a more successful year for John Abraham in Nolan's scheme. Julio Jones is coming off of a rookie season in which he put up significant numbers despite missing games due to injury. Matt Bryant is a Pro Bowl-caliber kicker, completing 27 of 29 field goals in 2011.

What do you think? Were Falcons players overlooked following a good 2011 regular season? Will they get more respect from Pro Bowl voters and their peers in 2012?

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