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Four legitimate 2018 breakout candidates for the Falcons

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These Falcons might just put together great seasons.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With minicamp wrapping up and a few players standing out extremely early, I got to thinking about one of my favorite topics: Breakout players.

It’s not one of my favorite topics because I typically get my selections right, but because on a roster this talented, it’s difficult to come up with just a handful of choices who legitimately qualify as breakout players. You could say that Grady Jarrett or Keanu Neal is set to break out, I guess, but they’re already borderline stars and don’t have that far to go to get here.

Here’s four players on my list for 2018.

Austin Hooper

Depending on your appetite for risky predictions, you could even toss Eric Saubert’s name in the hat here, given that he’s looked great in camp and should be able to leapfrog Logan Paulsen for snaps if he shows himself to be a capable blocker this spring and summer.

But if we’re being honest, Hooper’s the obvious candidate here. He didn’t quite break out last year, putting together a solid second season that was marked by a handful of mistakes that followed him around all year. He’s about as quick and well-rounded a starting tight end as the Falcons have had since Tony Gonzalez—not that he’s in the same league as a player—and now Hooper just needs to put the pieces together and make more of his opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the kind of season I predicted for him a year ago (approaching double digit touchdowns, 600-800 yards) a season later.

De’Vondre Campbell

The timing is right for Campbell, who is heading into his third NFL season and has shown remarkable growth already in his short NFL career. The Falcons took Campbell “early” because they believed in his ability and appeared to believe the many knocks on his awareness were fixable or overblown, and Campbell rewarded them by becoming a very good linebacker in his second season. Deion Jones is already a star, but Campbell still hasn’t hit his ceiling and could form a lethal tandem with Debo this year if he’s gotten even a little bit better.

Isaiah Oliver

Oliver’s only a rookie, but I think he can legitimately leap onto the scene. Calvin Ridley has that kind of talent, too, but he’s in a passing attack loaded with weapons and it’s not clear how much playing time (and how many targets) he’s going to get initially. Oliver, meanwhile, should play a ton with the Falcons being so fond of nickel sets.

As a rangy, plus athlete (you’re sensing a theme, here) with ball skills who should see most of his snaps outside, Oliver will be challenged by legitimately talented receivers right away, but he’s good enough to give them hell. If he can hold his own in coverage and make plays on the ball, he’ll turn some heads early.

Takkarist McKinley

This choice is too obvious, but I’m not one to ignore the obvious. Takk turned in a six sack rookie season that was notable for how good he looked in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and he’s so fast and powerful I’d be surprised if he didn’t build on that rookie season. On a quietly strong defensive line and with several weak tackles on the schedule, don’t be shocked if Takk pushes for double digit sacks, and he’s already very good against the run.

Who would be your breakout picks?