One perennial strength for the Falcons is the special teams unit. With Keith Armstrong coaching and some terrific players, you can usually count on the team winning the field position battle, which is much more important when your team is actually successful on offense and defense.
Let's take a look at the likely starters and key players, and talk a little bit about what to expect from each this year.
This man needs no introduction. Since arriving in Atlanta, Bryant has been one of the league's most accurate, steady kickers. He'll become one of just over a dozen kickers to continue booting into his 40's, and while a downturn may well be inevitable, you won't catch me betting heavily against him.
Bryant gives Atlanta a reliable leg from anywhere inside the 50, and a strong one even beyond that. He's simply one of the best kickers working today, and that translates to a consistently strong special teams unit. If all goes well, he'll nail over 90% of his kicks once more.
If Bryant is a reliable scoring option, Bosher is consistently a terrific kickoff specialist and punter. He has one of the higher averages in the NFL every year, regularly pins other teams deep in their own territory and is perhaps the most willing special teams tackler at his position in the entire NFL. At this point, Bosher is actually underrated outside of the Atlanta fanbase, but we all know how good it is.
Look for 47-plus yards as an average, plus at least one highlight reel hit.
All you need to know about Harris is that he's never singled out. Your best long snappers are virtually invisible, because they don't screw things up
Hester is not cheap, but he remains one of the most electric returners in league history, and he was effective a year ago. As the fifth option in the passing game, he offers a little extra value, as well. Don't bet against him being one of the 10-12 best returners in the NFL.
Kemal Ishmael, Kroy Biermann, Antone Smith, Eric Weems, Marquis Spruill
This isn't a complete list, but it's a pretty good accounting of the players who figure to have the biggest special teams impacts. Ishmael is a huge hitter who is extremely willing to help out, Biermann is a versatile specail teamer (he even has experience on kickoffs), Smith is speedy and extremely useful as a gunner, and Weems is a key tackler. Spruill had a reputation as a ready-made special teamer coming out of college, and I hope he'll live up to that this year.
Of course, you can take virtually anyone and project them to be useful, because Keith Armstrong has a knack for coaxing special teams value out of most anyone.
What are your expectations for the Falcons' 2015 special teams?