We've not yet begun the 2013 season, but can we compare this year's starters on the Falcons roster to last year's? You bet we can!
The Falcons as currently constructed look remarkably similar to 2012—they're returning 17 out of 22 starters—but player growth means we'll be looking at a different team than a year ago, nonetheless.
What I want to do is present the starters and see
2012: Matt Ryan
2013: Matt Ryan
Ryan's the incumbent, obviously. There's reason to believe that he could be even better in 2013, given another year of maturation and the addition of yet another weapon in Steven Jackson. At worst, this is a wash.
2012: Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Mike Cox (FB)
2013: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Bradie Ewing (FB)
We could argue about this one for a while, but ultimately I'd tick the upgrade column. S-Jax is likely to have a nice year, adds more to the passing game than Turner and Jacquizz is a year older and wiser. The question is whether Ewing will be an upgrade on Cox, but it shouldn't be too difficult.
2012: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas
2013: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas
Identical. White's a year into his "decline" phase, if that's ever going to happen, and Jones is a year better. This is likely to be about the same as it was in 2012, when total production is considered.
2012: Tony Gonzalez
2013: Tony Gonzalez
You can't expect Gonzo to continue at his ridiculous pace, and I have him penciled in for a small decline in 2013. Even so, he remains a first down machine, a sure-handed tight end and a red zone threat. Add Levine Toilolo as a part-time player and you've got some upside here.
2012: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Garrett Reynolds, Tyson Clabo
2013: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes
Konz should be an upgrade over a fading Todd McClure, yes, but whoever takes over at right tackle may not be as effective as Clabo this season. That would be a problem for Matt Ryan and company. I expect roughly the same level of play of the line this year, with the potential for either a minor uptick or downturn.
2012: John Abraham, Jonathan Babineaux, Peria Jerry, Kroy Biermann
2013: Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Kroy Biermann
This may actually be a more effective line in 2013. A healthy Peters would be a big upgrade, and Osi's younger than Abraham and should hold up better over the course of a full season, even if he won't play as insanely well as Abe did in spurts for 2012. The only way it would be worse is if Osi bombs.
2012: Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon
2013: Stephen Nicholas, Akeem Dent, Sean Weatherspoon
Barring a signing or a surprise Brian Banks emergence, the depth chart is likely to shake out like it did a year ago. You can't expect too much more from Nicholas, sure, but Dent and 'Spoon could both show growth.
2012: Asante Samuel, Dunta Robinson, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore
2013: Asante Samuel, Desmond Trufant, Thomas DeCoud, William Moore
This largely depends on how effective Trufant is in his rookie season. If he can bring more to the table than Dunta, this should once again be an impressive unit for the Falcons, albeit one prone to inconsistency.
Is this team improved from a year ago? Let us know what you think!