The Atlanta Falcons got a stellar year from their rookie class in 2016, with Deion Jones and Keanu Neal dominating, and De’Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole coming on as major contributors. Can they repeat that performance in 2017?
My guess is yes, as you’re well aware by now, and I think all four can legitimately improve. The defense around them should be better, they’re all talented and grounded, and Dan Quinn has shown a knack for getting the most out of his players. Despite my extreme optimism, though, I suppose we have to at least consider the possibility of the dreaded sophomore slump.
SB Nation did just that, and while none of the Falcons’ rookies come up on the list they put together—Joey Bosa and the dynamic Cowboys duo of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott did—the underlying question is a sound one. The sophomore slump, to the extent that it exists in sports, tends to be due to teams having the time to adjust to gifted rookies who took the league by storm in their first season. If you can watch a lot of film and draw up a plan, and you have the players necessary to execute that plan, maybe you can attack Deion Jones’ weaknesses, whatever they are, and have better success.
The Falcons are better-equipped in this regard because their defense has so many compelling young players that it’s not like you can just work around Jones or Neal and roll on offense. The same principle holds true for the other side of the ball, where you can certainly plan for tight end Austin Hooper, but that means putting time and resources toward a tight end on an offense that also has Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones. Atlanta’s done an amazing job of building this roster up so that even if one or two guys falter in their second year, they should still be in great shape.
Realistically, we’re not going to get drastic improvement from every Falcons rookie, though it’s fair to expect Campbell and Hooper to do more with larger roles. But I also don’t anticipate we’ll see any of these players fall off in a major way, either, which should pave the way for another successful season in Atlanta.