The Falcons need players to step up in order to make another deep playoff run. Here are a few likely candidates.
The Atlanta Falcons will look different by the time they take the field for the regular season opener in September. There are players on this team right now who have a chance to make the team better simply by improving.
This list could look a lot different by the time the season rolls around. Predicting production from any player has a nasty habit of making me look foolish, as Lawrence Sidbury can attest. Past performance doesn't tell us everything, and when we're talking about players who haven't truly arrived yet, it's even more difficult to forecast.
But what the hell. It's the off-season. Here's my list of candidates for breakout years in 2013.
The stout defensive tackle came into the league with some promise as a pass rusher, but he's blossomed impressively the last couple of years. I'm not sure he's a full-time player even so, but the defensive tackle situation on this team is always going to be a rotation. Walker has better burst and pass-rushing instincts than anyone but Jonathan Babineaux, and Babs is not a spring chicken.
I think Walker operates as a nominal starter this season and picks up 5-6 sacks while serving as a disruptive presence. I think he can be extremely effective alongside Corey Peters and Travian Robertson, particularly if the Falcons kick Babs out to end more often this season.
We've been debating whether Michael Turner will stay or go for a while now, and if he does go, the Falcons are likely to go looking for a new lead back. None of that means Rodgers is shuffling to the background, though.
Rodgers may never be a featured back, but he's likely to get 100+ carries as part of a platoon in 2013. Better yet, he's an excellent receiver out of the backfield, and the Falcons are likely to continue to use him in that capacity. When you consider his usefulness as a kick returner on top of that and another year in the team's system, Quizz should have a bit of a breakout year in 2013.
I believe the Falcons are moving on from Todd McClure this off-season. I believe Peter Konz will be the starter at center when the season opens. I truly believe he'll thrive there.
Konz got off to a rocky start at right guard, but settled in as the year went off, showing the sound technique that made him so intriguing. Returning him to his natural position should pay dividends, and a year of experience plus his natural talent should ensure that Konz locks down center starting in 2013. That would be huge for this offensive line.
I was extremely encouraged by McClain in 2012. He showed quality coverage chops and sure tackling skills, something this secondary always needs. With Dunta Robinson no absolute lock to return and Chris Owens also potentially leaving, the Falcons could use McClain. He should get a crack at the nickel, at minimum, and I think he'll shine even if he's given more exposure.
So there's four choices. Who do you have as a breakout candidate in 2013?