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Who might come on strong for the Falcons after the bye?

A few players could step into bigger roles once the bye is over.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Atlanta’s first five games are in the books, and they have been a decidedly mixed bag.

What is clear is that there is a huge opportunity for improvement here, not just teamwide but also for specific players who either haven’t had the chance to make a major impact or just haven’t played up to their potential just yet. Let’s talk about six of those players today, especially because this team’s dependence on rookies and young players is only going to grow and create more opportunities for big weeks and big moments in the final two-thirds of the year.

RB Mike Davis

Cordarrelle Patterson’s breakout has been fantastic to watch, but one of its more interesting consequences is that fans seem convinced Davis needs to take a backseat. This is due primarily to how explosive and dynamic Patterson looks with the ball in his hands, but it’s also the statistically underwhelming results for Davis thus far and his fumble on Sunday. The Falcons are not going to go away from Davis, though, and he’s one of the stronger bets for a lift as the coaching staff and offensive line improve.

The thing is, it’s not as though Davis has forgotten to run the football, as he showed Sunday when impressive effort and power got him into the end zone. It’s that he’s got nowhere to go way too often—he has 120 yards on 62 carries before contact, while Patterson has 121 yards on 21 fewer carries—and that he’s generally getting hit, making a second effort and immediately getting hit again. Davis is a power guy and not a speedster, but there are very few backs who can make something big happen when they have no lane and no help.

Despite that, Davis is coming off one of his finest weeks of the season, and really has been dragged down by the abysmal results against Washington, where he ran it 13 times and only got 14 yards. Wayne Gallman will step into a larger role at some point and Patterson is going nowhere, but with the line finding its footing I’d be willing to bet Davis’s best days in this offense are right in front of him.

TE Kyle Pitts

The most inevitable inclusion here, but just because he’s obvious doesn’t mean we should leave him out. Pitts had his true breakout effort against the Jets, going over 100 yards and scoring a touchdown for the first time, but I don’t think we’ve come close to seeing the very best he has to offer at this point.

All the pre-draft hype with Pitts seems justified when he’s making plays you can’t imagine someone a little shorter, slower, and less gifted someone making, as he’s done multiple times this year. Pitts was an investment for the future for a Falcons team with (hopefully) its best years in front of it, but there’s no reason he can’t be a legitimate threat to hit 75-100 yards every week and put the fear of God into defenders in near the goal line.

Look for him to take that breakout effort against the Jets and turn it into a pretty consistent stretch of good-to-great play the rest of the way.

ILB Deion Jones

It has been a while since we’ve seen Jones’ best football, I think. He has been a consistent tackler this year, but Pro Football Reference credits him with the second-highest number of yards allowed through the air, second-worst opposing passer rating when targeted, and has him giving up two touchdowns. That plus a lack of the kinds of big plays that make Jones so thrilling means it’s been a decent enough but not stellar start to the season for him.

I’d expect that to change as time goes on. Jones is coming off a shakier year in coverage than his 2019 season or abbreviated 2018 season, but he wasn’t struggling this much in 2020 and was still fairly regularly making those big plays that have filled up his personal highlight reel over the years. I don’t believe Jones has suddenly lost something at 27, so look for some bigger weeks ahead.

OLB Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Out of all the snap count decisions the Falcons have been making on defense, the ones with JTM the past three weeks have been the most confusing.

After playing 35% of the snaps in Week 1, Tuioti-Mariner has not surpassed 17% of the snaps since, and he was on the inactives list in Week 4 against Washington for...reasons? There are no great pass rushers on this team outside of Grady Jarrett and perhaps a resurgent Dante Fowler, but Tuioti-Mariner is one of the best ones the team has nonetheless. He is tied for the team lead in sacks (2), tied for fourth on the team in pressures (3), and has one of the lower missed tackle rates on the team (12.5%, which is a statement about how many tackles this team has missed). It’s not clear to me why JTM’s role has been so small to this point when he has been productive, but hopefully that terrific effort sack against the Jets help him get on the field and building on his success in limited opportunities thus far.

I’d heavily bet on him finishing among the team leaders in sacks if he can get even a modest increase in his weekly snap counts.

OLB Ade Ogundeji

Speaking of players who could finish among the team leaders in sacks, how about Ogundeji? He just picked up his first NFL sack on Sunday, but his role is growing and the Falcons keep talking like they expect him to be a core piece of the defense in the near future.

That’s impressive for a Day 3 selection who probably would’ve spent most of his rookie season on the bench under either of the previous two coaching staffs, and as Ogundeji’s snaps increase, so do his contributions. He showed impressive physicality and hustle not just on his sack, but also on a very good tackle of Michael Carter to stop a play cold.

When you’re a capable, well-rounded player for a defense in need of more of those, you’ll get your opportunities. If Ogundeji can keep building on a solid start to his career—and I think he will—he’ll be among the team’s most useful young defenders all year long.

S Richie Grant

I couldn’t be more excited about Grant, a player who has sky-high potential as an aggressive playmaker in the secondary. The problem was that we had no idea when he’d get a chance to show that, as he was limited to a large role on special teams through the first four weeks of the season.

Injury forced the issue and Grant...looked good, as expected. He and Jaylinn Hawkins are now both coming off very good games in a season where Duron Harmon has largely not impressed and Erik Harris has been pretty solid. You have to think both have larger roles ahead, but there’s no question in my mind Grant is going to be a building block and can prove it in the weeks ahead.

Who else do you see coming on strong in the last two-thirds of the season?