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2015 is a pivotal season for the Falcons' Kemal Ishmael

The young safety has a chance to grab a much larger role in 2016 and beyond.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This season will be a pivotal one for a great many players, but Kemal Ishmael will be on to watch especially closely.

The reasons for that should be fairly obvious. Ishmael was pressed into duty frequently last year and looked like one of the few defenders with a clue, flying all over the field en route to 97 tackles and four interceptions. He's one of the most valuable special teamers Keith Armstrong has at his disposal, which virtually guarantees him a roster, and he's on a roster where safety is one of the outstanding weaknesses. His primary obstacle is William Moore, who is terrific and locked in for starting strong safety duties, but Moore hasn't had too many seasons where he's been able to stay healthy for all 16 games. There is opportunity here, and Ishmael is still just 24 years old.

Opinions on Ishmael are sharply divided, as you might expect. Those who champion him point to his excellence on special teams, his playmaking ability and his aggression and physicality, all nice attributes for a safety. Detractors point to his sometimes shaky coverage, especially when he's asked to handle deep duties, and suggest it will prevent him from ever being a full-time starting safety in the NFL.

Ultimately, Ishmael has already proven himself to be worthy of a roster spot, and he could carve out a long career as a useful reserve and core special teamer for these Falcons no matter how he fares in 2015. With Charles Godfrey exiting and William Moore getting older, however, Ishmael has a legitimate shot to prove he deserves more playing time, and perhaps a crack at the starting strong safety job over the long haul. He has the kind of physicality that Quinn craves, at the very least, and should make things interesting in the free safety competition over the coming months.

More generally, if the Falcons are going to be a great team again in the near future, they'll need a couple of young players like Ishmael to fill in their major holes without the team needing to spend a ton of draft capital or money to find competence.

What are your expectations for Ishmael in 2015?