It took being officially eliminated from the playoffs to make this happen, but the Falcons have finally embraced the need to play young guys.
Per the excellent Vaughn McClure:
"It’s that time of year – I think all the guys understand it, because [Samuel] is not the only one – across the board on defense and offense. There are several guys that are giving up some reps to the young guys,’’ Nolan said. "[Samuel’s] been on a lot of teams and played a lot of years. It’s kind of the nature of the beast when you get late in the season. You know, you start to take some more looks at young guys to see what they can do.
It was time weeks ago, but late is still better than never. Young guys like Malliciah Goodman, Jonathan Massaquoi, Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu have received playing time thanks to injuries, but only Desmond Trufant was getting major playing time as a rookie because he he earned it right out of the gate. That's finally changing.
The biggest beneficiaries of this philosophy change are going to be guys like Levine Toilolo, Ryan Schraeder and perhaps Travian Robertson. Toilolo and Schraeder in particular are being singled out by Dirk Koetter as players the Falcons want to feature in the coming weeks, which is excellent news:
On the offensive side, Koetter talked about getting rookie tight end Levine Toilolo and rookie tackle Ryan Schraeder more involved. Toilolo had a nice 12-yard catch against the Bills, while Schraeder played a season-high 27 snaps at right tackle and lined up at tight end in the jumbo package.
Schraeder has shown well in his limited snaps this year, and the Falcons may have at least a capable swing tackle in the UDFA rookie. More playing time will help them determine if he's got the potential to be something bigger and better than that.
Toilolo, meanwhile, has the potential to be a nasty blocker and a red zone weapon, at minimum. Getting him all the snaps he can handle and giving him opportunities will help the Falcons figure out if he projects as a long-term #2 tight end with upside or a potential starter.
I'm hopeful the team will continue to give real, meaningful snaps to Mass and Goodman while working in Maponga and Robertson on the other side of the ball. Maybe none of these guys are more than rotational players, but with three free agent defensive tackles and an unsettled situation at end, it's time to find that out.
Which young players will shine, in your estimation?