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Dan Quinn talks up Jaeden Graham, Brian Hill and Falcons developmental program

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Graham may be stepping into a larger role, and if he thrives, he won’t be the first.

Atlanta Falcons v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The Falcons have prided themselves on developing some of their better players, or at the very least, helping to bring out the best of them. Recent examples of that would include guys like Ricardo Allen, De’Vondre Campbell, Austin Hooper, and now Kendall Sheffield who clearly had talent and drive but weren’t considered slam dunks to turn into quality starters.

You may quibble with the “quality starters” bit, but the Falcons clearly prioritize development, even if it doesn’t always work out (insert any number of examples from the past five seasons). That extends to guys who haven’t gotten extended chances, but by dint of their hard work in practice or flashes in their limited opportunities, are now ready to step into bigger roles with injuries happening.

Two Quinn singled out in Wednesday’s presser with reporters, including The Falcoholic’s Jeanna Thomas, were tight end Jaeden Graham and running back Brian Hill. Graham is going to be thrust into a role this Sunday against the Panthers because Austin Hooper is not going to play, and while the Falcons will probably sign someone to help out, there’s no one who is going to come in and catch a bunch of passes this weekend who just happens to be hanging out in free agency. Graham, who has snagged two passes for 32 yards on the year and has been a key player on special teams, figures to have a chance to easily surpass his target count for the year in this one.

Quinn singled out Graham, who was a mildly surprising addition to the 53 man roster at the cutdown, as someone who continues to impress.

“Jaeden has been improving while we’re going...he’s definitely somebody we just keep seeing getting better and better.”

While Graham has been impressive in practice and on special teams, Brian Hill has been making the most of his opportunities in games. The injury to Ito Smith opened up opportunities for him, and now the injury to Devonta Freeman makes the former Wyoming back the team’s de facto starter. Hill has gone from roster castoff to a capable runner, receiver, and special teamer for this Falcons team, with pass protection looming as the only huge hole in his game. In his opportunities thus far, Hill has carried the ball 28 times for 101 yards and a touchdown and has chipped in three catches for 24 yards and a touchdown.

He’s going to get all the work he can handle against the Panthers, who have one of the league’s worst run defenses, because the Falcons have no real choice in the matter. The development from Hill gives them faith that he’ll deliver, Quinn told reporters Wednesday.

“We’ve seen this growth happen, and when you see that, you really get pumped for a guy and you say, okay, he was at a spot and then took his own game to a new space. We’ve got a lot of trust and belief in him.”

The Falcons (and fans) will get to see the results of that hard work and Plan D on Sunday, and we’ll hope all involved live up to the praise from Quinn.