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Is Troy Andersen poised for a breakout second season?


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NFL: JAN 08 Buccaneers at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Falcons added a number of primary and complementary pieces to their defense this offseason, but they are also expecting some young players to make a leap in their development. Perhaps at the forefront of that list is second-year linebacker Troy Andersen.

An uber-athletic linebacker, Andersen has immense potential but saw limited snaps as a rookie before getting a four-game run as a starter to close the season. Looking ahead to this fall, Josh Kendall named Andersen as the Falcons’ breakout candidate in a group piece for The Athletic.

“The Falcons restocked their defensive depth chart via free agency and hired a new defensive coordinator, and the biggest beneficiary could be a player who was already in the fold,” Kendall writes. “Andersen, taken 58th in the 2022 draft, earned the starting middle linebacker job late in his rookie year and should flourish in Ryan Nielsen’s pressure-heavy system.”

Andersen registered 69 tackles, three tackles for a loss, a pass defense and a forced fumble in his first NFL season. His 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds is a better indicator of why the Falcons are high on the young inside linebacker.

The plan is to pair Andersen with Kaden Elliss, a free-agent signee who had seven sacks during a breakout season in New Orleans last year. If Elliss and Nielsen can help unlock a similar ability in Andersen, it would go a long way towards solving Atlanta’s pass rush woes.

“I am excited about this particular player, there is definitely a place,” Nielsen said of Andersen at his introductory press conference. “He does a lot of things, and his skillset allows him to do a lot of things that fit certain things that we’re going to want that position to do.”

The advanced analytics provide some good news on that front. Andersen earned a respectable 65.9 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus last season, and he closed the year out on a truly high note with five total pressures against Tampa Bay in Week 18.

However, the other aspects of his game received mostly poor marks. His total defensive grade for the season was 40.2.

Andersen is far from a finished product at this point, but there’s an internal example to point to if looking for a reason for optimism in his development. Like Andersen, Richie Grant—Atlanta’s second-round pick in 2021—had a redshirt year of sorts as a rookie. Last season, no defender played more snaps for the Falcons than Grant, who performed admirably even if some issues remain for him to clean up.

Entering Year 2, Andersen is on the doorstep of his opportunity. Barring injury, it’s possible Andersen tops 1,000 snaps in 2023, which would be a mighty large uptick from the 481 he saw as a rookie. Anything resembling a quality season from Andersen would go a long way in answering some of the lingering questions about the Falcons defense.