As training camp begins, I thought it'd be fun to open take a stab at what could be some surprising developments during the 2013 season. However, rather than picking things I perceive as "likely to happen," I'd like to focus on some things that will be somewhat surprising or unexpected. Let's take a look at my completely baseless predictions for the upcoming season.
Brian Banks becomes a starter
Let me just come right out and say it: I think this kid is going to be special. You don't make it through the ordeal that he did without having some incredible character and drive. Plus, the word that came out of the OTAs was that Banks was showing impressive strength and had a nose for the football. He was even said to have shed Levine Toilolo with the "flick of his wrists," a testament to his MMA training over the last year.
Let's also be honest about one other thing: once you get past Spoon, our LB corps is decidedly less impressive. Nicholas did ok last year but was exposed in the playoffs. Dent got better, but really got the starting position due to lack of depth and injuries.
I'm not saying Banks starts day 1 - but I think he will make some incredible progress during the year and get an opportunity during the 16 game season.
Julio gets 1600 yds, 12TDs
Some would argue that this wouldn't be a surprising stat line for Julio, but when you consider that he's playing on the same field as Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez and now Steven Jackson, these numbers would seem far less realistic. However, I happen to think he DOES make this happen, even with the ball being spread around to the numerous weapons on this team.
Year 3 is largely considered the year when a WR "gets it." Given Julio's quick start and quickly developing chemistry with Ryan, I believe 2013 will be the year that JJ becomes our #1A WR. This is no knock on Roddy - who is a #1 WR on any almost any other team in the league - but rather a vote of confidence in our young, dynamic play maker. What he did to the 49ers in the playoff game was bordering on embarrassing - and that was one of the top defenses of last year. I believe it will only get better from there.
Massaqoui gets 8 sacks
Call it a gut instinct, but I believe Mass is due for his breakout season. The guy was a sack machine his junior year in college before putting on more weight for his Sr year and subsequently getting fewer sacks. The fact that he is also Nolan's first draft pick with the Falcons (round 5 in 2012) gives me more confidence. With word coming out that Biermann may see snaps at OLB, I think Massaqoui gets quite a few looks opposite Osi - and though Osi is getting older, he's going to demand a good bit of attention from opposing teams offensive lines. This will give our young DE some isolated looks, and I happen to think he will capitalize.
Trufant gets 5 INTs
I try not to read too much into offseason progress, but the early word on Trufant and Alford is very encouraging. I believe Alford will see snaps at nickel and become our primary kick returner, while Trufant will take over the starting CB position vacated by Grimes/Robinson. Be sure - the young CB will get tested early and often, but I also think Nolan will put this guy in a position to succeed. QBs are going to look for the rookie to pick on him, and I think he's going to make them pay - in particular, with 5 INTS during the season.
Toilolo gets 6TD, same as Roddy
At 6'8", Toilolo is the definition of "freakishly tall" and there are very few safeties and linebackers in the league that can cover him to his fullest verticality. That said, I think he's going to be a frightening red zone threat that Ryan will take advantage of several times. The Falcons showed that they'll throw to someone other than Roddy/Julio/Tony in the redzone with guys like Mike Johnson and Jason Snelling getting TDs in short yardage.
That said, I think the combo of SJAX and Toilolo, plus JJ amassing big play TDs means Roddy slips down in the TD department some. I think Roddy still has a nice season, but his numbers aren't going to be the same as they were 4 years ago.
SJAX attains 1400 All purpose yards
Will the 30 year old back break through the dreaded 30-wall for another big season? I think he does so, and does it in spades.
I think we'll see Jackson with a rushing stat line of 200 carries, 4 yds/carry, 800 yards. I also think he'll pull in 50 receptions, 12 yds/reception for 600 yards.
The simple matter is this: Opposing defenses will simply not be able to account for every weapon the Falcons have, and Jackson will see far fewer 8 man fronts than he did in St. Louis, where he was still able to have success. Jackson will have an amazing 2013 season, mostly due to the weapons that now surround him.
Chase Coffman will have more yards than Harry Douglas
Some of you may groan, and I'll admit to being a Coffman fan - but I believe our 3rd TE will surprise many people and be a much bigger factor in our offense than anyone dare anticipate. This isn't based solely on his reception in the Seattle playoff game, but also on the fact that he has been quietly having a very nice offseason as well. I believe the Falcons will use Coffman out of the slot this year to create matchup nightmares for nickel corners, and I think he'll take full advantage of those opportunities. I also believe HD's role in our offense will continue to regress, as Julio explodes and SJAX takes away even more of his receptions.
Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying Coffman is poised for 800 yards, but I do think he'll amass more on the year than Douglas.
So, what do you think? Are these predictions wildly out of whack? What are some that you would make for the upcoming season?