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These Falcons could be in for a breakout year in 2016

The youth on this team could begin paying off this year.

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Even though the Falcons may be an older team in general, there’s little doubt that the team is banking on recently drafted players to take a step forward in 2016 and beyond. If the team is going to make a move back towards playoff relevance, the young guys on the team are going to have to make substantial strides. In this writer’s opinion, there are three key guys set to do just that in 2016.

Grady Jarrett

The fifth year draft pick in 2015 was considered a great pick, and possibly the best value in the entire draft class. Devalued only because of his smaller stature, Grady Jarrett has shown some incredible flashes already this preseason. He’s anchoring the line at the nose (instead of the 3-tech, like many thought he would) and he’s already showing the ability to take on multiple lineman and penetrate into the backfield. In fact, Jarrett could be critical in helping the Falcons turn around their dismal pass rush.

The Falcons will use heavy rotations on the DL all year, but look for Jarrett to get a heavier percentage of snaps than some of his line-mates. His outstanding quickness and hand usage has him set to make a big splash in 2016. Don’t be surprised if Grady is quickly considered one of our best defenders after this year.

Justin Hardy

A critical aspect of playing receiver in the NFL is earning the trust of your QB. That takes time, but there are signs that Ryan is already displaying trust in Justin Hardy.

The second year receiver had a rough rookie season, due to never having used a playbook in college. Once he began playing at the end of the year, though, he showed glimpses of why many thought he could be one of the better value picks of the 2015 draft (Hardy was our fourth round pick).

Hardy will undoubtedly be the third receiver in 2016, but that only means so much. While Mohamed Sanu will see more snaps overall, I believe Hardy will see more targets from Matt Ryan in critical situations, like third downs.

The young receiver isn’t likely to put up big numbers, but he could be a huge factor in helping the Falcons extend drives and put points on the board. His fantastic hands and willingness to catch in traffic could make him a key part of an offense that is looking to rebound.

Ricardo Allen

With the excitement over players like Keanu Neal, DeVondre Campbell and Deion Jones, it’s easy to forget about Allen. Ricardo Allen is only in his third year, and his second as a starter. Having a full NFL season under his belt at the free safety position has surely gotten him more comfortable, and Dan Quinn has specifically mentioned Allen as someone who has taken a considerable step forward this year.

Allen was a ball-hawk at Purdue, and the hope is that he can become one of our chief ball-hawks in the secondary. He quietly had a decent first year, made all the more impressive by the fact that it was his first playing safety. He’s also a dedicated student of the game, spending countless hours watching film and even studying at home with his wife. The excitement over newer players has made many forget about Allen, but I believe he’ll capture our attention again once the season rolls around.

What are your thoughts on these potential breakout players for the Falcons?