Every year in the NFL, just when you least expect it, unheralded players step up. They fill the shoes of their predecessors, exceeding expectations. The Falcons' depth chart is, at least in theory, no exception to that rule. But in 2013, not counting rookies, the Falcons weren't so lucky. Sure, Drew Davis had his moments, and Patrick DiMarco adequately replaced Brady Ewing for the second consecutive year, but no non-rookie vastly exceeded our expectations.
So who could be a depth chart sleeper heading into 2014? Again, we're not talking about rookies, and we're not talking about players who are already stars, perennial starters, or important role players.
(1) Brady Ewing
Ewing hasn't caught a break since he entered the league three years ago. He's played well in the preseason, and the Falcons obviously drafted him for a reason. While DiMarco's capabale, Ewing's the more talented player, assuming he can stay healthy.
(2) Gabe Carimi
For how often we complain about Sam Baker, as first round busts go, Carimi's way worse. He's simply enormous, and he's got experience playing RT, LT, and OG. Something obviously didn't click in his transition to the NFL; however, with a fresh start and back in Mike Tice's capable hands, he might just surprise us.
(3) Peter Konz
Once considered the heir apparent to Todd McClure, Konz is now in do-or-die mode. Fail to progress considerably in the coming year, and he may not find himself on the Falcons' roster at all in 2015. He seems to get it at this point. That is, he's got a lot of work to do. Maybe losing his job in 2013 will be enough to propel him going forward.
(4) Stansley Maponga
Much of his fate depends on the Falcons' upcoming personnel decisions. If they keep Kroy Biermann/Osi Umenyiora and draft a defensive end - or defensive end/linebacker hybrid - in May's draft, Maponga could find himself on the outside looking in. He too has been limited by injury, potentially caused by a lack of ideal size. Even so, he's got impressive technique and as a situational pass rusher, he could do some damage in 2014.
So what say you? Who's your depth chart sleeper in 2014?