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Three under-the-radar Falcons who could be major contributors in 2017

These three players figure to carve out real roles with this star-studded Falcons team.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have a star-studded roster and probably 19-20 established starters, so there will be fewer surprises in terms of roster battles and starting job intrigue than in years past. That doesn’t mean there won’t be Falcons who we’ve either written off or kind of forgotten about, and that doesn’t mean those same Falcons won’t contribute in a big way for this football team.

Here are three, all on defense. It’s hard to fly under the radar on this offense, and those players who do probably won’t be headed for significant roles.

Ra’Shede Hageman

It’s difficult to believe that Hageman could be under-the-radar, because he has a second round pedigree, was in the news for a domestic incident last year, and is a big enough dude to stand above the radar. But Hageman hasn’t turned into the force of nature many of us hoped he would up to this point, so it has been easy to write him off.

That’s probably a mistake. Hageman came on in the second half of the year (perhaps not coincidentally after Dan Quinn took the reins on defense) and was mostly excellent in the playoffs, playing strong run defense and showing the kind of overpowering penetration ability we’ve been looking for from him for years now. It’s unlikely that Hageman will ever become a star, but as the man who will be keeping Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe fresh, he’s going to find his way to a decent number of snaps, and he’s a pretty safe bet to do good things with them.

C.J. Goodwin

One one hand, Goodwin is basically buried on this depth chart, particularly if Damontae Kazee is going to get any real time at cornerback. On the other hand, Goodwin played extremely well last year, especially for someone who just switched from wide receiver to cornerback over the summer.

As Aaron Freeman at FalcFans likes to note, Goodwin has special teams value. He’s also a very different player stylistically from Brian Poole and Kazee, as he’s a bigger, faster corner. Dan Quinn should be able to find a role for him, and while it will be smaller unless injuries hit, I’m bullish on Goodwin building on his impressive 2016. He should be one of two or three truly vital special teamers, along with...

Kemal Ishmael

Ishmael is moving to linebacker full-time, and remains a key special teamer. I think there’s a very legitimate shot that he’ll be starting at weakside linebacker Week 1, however.

Duke Riley is eventually going to take that job—late 2017 or 2018 feels like a safe bet—but I like Ishmael’s chances as a heady, playmaking veteran with defensive familiarity and the kind of physicality DQ and company love. As always, he’ll probably play better than we have any right to expect.

Who would be your picks?