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The Falcons are the first Super Bowl team since 1981 to start three rookies on defense

It’s pretty incredible that the Falcons have been as successful as they have on defense, particularly in the postseason.

Divisional Round - Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Falcons’ defense still isn’t a great unit, but c’mon, you know that. They did a magnificent job against Green Bay, but the Patriots are an even tougher challenge, and there will be hiccups. There are missing pieces and players still learning on the job and limitations, but for all that, this defense is better than it has a right to be. In the postseason, it’s been—dare I say—good.

Part of the reason for their success is simple: They are starting many rookies, and those rookies are faring spectacularly well, especially relative to preseason expectations.

The writeup above is well worth your time to read, because it highlights just how much youth and potential there is on this defense. But pull out that bit of history here and realize how unique this defense really is, even if it was obviously brought along to the Super Bowl by one of the best offenses in NFL history.

You have Keanu Neal, who is already scaring the hell out of NFL receivers who have to see him charging at them as they’re coming down with the ball. You have Deion Jones, who is faster and more dynamic than most other NFL linebackers, and a massive upgrade on the players the Falcons had been trotting out previously. There’s De’Vondre Campbell, with his physicality and considerable upside, who is improving already and could be a force of nature in a year or two. And hell, even Brian Poole counts, because he’s been playing nickel all year and has shown impressive coverage chops and noteworthy physicality. This defense is succeeding in large part because of these players, not in spite of them.

If the Falcons are going to do what the 1981 San Francisco 49ers did with those rookie starters and win in the Super Bowl, they’ll need contributions from all four of these guys. I feel pretty good about the prospect of them getting those contributions.