Go back through the site's archives sometime, to 2008. This was the year immediately following that disastrous 2007, when Falcons fans were sharply divided about Michael Vick, Bobby Petrino had just bolted and every move the organization made was met with caution.
It's difficult to conceive of this now, particular for those of you who became fans in the Mike Smith era, but at that moment we had more or less hit bottom as fans. There was no reason to believe what came next would be worse, but there was certainly not a lot of optimism about the 2008 season. Longtime players left, the team rolled out plenty of young guys and seemed unlikely to contend for much of anything. Going back, you can feel how excited we all were for a change, but you can also see the anxiety.
- The Falcons started a rookie quarterback, a former fifth-round pick for another team at running back, a former UDFA at guard, a late-round pick at guard/tackle, and a rookie at left tackle. This was an offense loaded with youth and unrealized promise.
- On the defense, the Falcons gave significant snaps to Kroy Biermann (a fifth-round pick), Domonique Foxworth (who had not done much up to this point), Brent Grimes (a former UDFA) and Curtis Lofton (a fresh second-round pick), among others. Again, lots of young guys, with virtually no history of production at the NFL level.
Incredibly, this team went 11-5 and was just a couple of plays away making a rookie playoff winner out of Matt Ryan. All that youth that we were so concerned about didn't just play above our expectations, they smashed our expectations. If you had asked me to tell you with a straight face that Harvey Dahl would be universally celebrated for his play at right guard or that Brent Grimes would develop into one of the league's premier cover cornerbacks before the 2008 season, I would have told you to stop taking crazy pills, you crazy person.
The situation is not the same in 2013, but the fears are the same. The Falcons are ready to roll with young players on offense (Lamar Holmes, Peter Konz) and on defense (Jonathan Massaquoi, Akeem Dent, Robert McClain, rookies). There's unknown talent here, and the automatic assumption is that this talent isn't as good or isn't as ready as the players who came before. This assumption always is the safe one, but 2008 shows us it's not always the right one.
Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports
Peter Konz has a ton of talent and is replacing a version of Todd McClure who was clearly breaking down. Jonathan Massaquoi is a pass-rushing specialist on a team that hasn't had a competent one outside of John Abraham in more than half-a-decade. Robert McClain will take snaps that Dunta Robinson would have taken, and he'll fare better. Holmes is a question mark, sure, but he has all the physical talent in the world, was lauded as a quick learner and was the team's third-round pick just a year ago. The team wouldn't have cut Tyson Clabo if they didn't believe in Holmes, money-savings be damned.
It's natural to fear that the youth movement won't work out, that young players can't match up to veterans. It's a fear as old as sports, and one that isn't always misplaced. Plenty of young guys don't pan out, and that can lead to a chain of crises down the line. We're not wrong to be skeptical, and it's hard to feel great about players we honestly don't know much about. That's particularly true of the incoming rookie class.
But I would remind you, as we stand on the cusp of going into next season with a few under-25 starters, that this is one of the older teams in the NFL. It is a team with a closing window, as currently constructed. Two or three years from now, unless the Falcons find and deploy young talent, it will be a team struggling to stay playoff-relevant. Going young is part of a strategy we need to embrace, a strategy aimed at ensuring this team has a future beyond a steady decline into irrelevance.
That's my take. What's yours?