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Atlanta Falcons: 5 Players Primed For A Breakout In 2015

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It seems like every player on the Atlanta Falcons roster is buying into the culture change up in Flowery Branch. Players like Julio Jones and Roddy White are doing whatever it takes to get the Dirty Birds back into the postseason, putting team before self as the new coaching regime is perfecting installs.

Outside of the team’s perennial Pro Bowl caliber players like Jones, White, QB Matt Ryan, and KR/WR Devin Hester, many of our Atlanta Falcons need to rise up for the team to get back to their winning ways under the first five seasons of the Mike Smith Era.

I’m talking about guys that need to take the next step in the development as NFL players. Not necessarily becoming Pro Bowlers this year in 2015, with the exception being CB Desmond Trufant, but attaining that level of an undisputed starter in the National Football League, regardless of what team they play for.

While I hope that dozens of players improve under HC Dan Quinn, DC Richard Smith, and OC Kyle Shanahan, I feel that at least five veteran guys need to step up for the Atlanta Falcons to have a strong 2015 season. Here are the five players I see as having a breakout year for the Dirty Birds this fall.

For the Atlanta Falcons to improve drastically on defense in 2015, the secondary has to take charge. The linebacker corps still needs one more offseason’s worth of moves before it’s ready to take that next step. Up front though I believe many of the pieces are in place for Dan Quinn, the defensive line has been disastrous the last few seasons and hopefully DQ can coach them up in 2015.

Though the secondary finished dead last in defending the pass last year, I see this unit as the one most likely to lead this 2015 Atlanta Falcons defense. I like the depth in the defensive backfield and Assistant HC Raheem Morris is a guru in teaching pass coverage. The one player I see taking a giant leap forward in his play in the secondary is Robert Alford.

Robert Alford: Alford enters his third season with the Atlanta Falcons after getting drafted in the 2nd Round out of Southeastern Louisiana University in 2013. When Thomas Dimitroff decided to take two corners in the first two rounds of the 2013 NFL Draft, the other being former Washington Husky Desmond Trufant, he had two eyes on the future. In a league becoming increasingly vertical, it’s imperative to have sound players in the secondary.

I’ve loved Robert Alford’s aggressiveness and ball-hawking ability in his first two years in the League. However, he has been the one defensive back most likely to get burnt on a deep ball in his first two seasons. I see Alford’s versatility as a key part to play in multiple spots in the defensive backfield for Dan Quinn. Like rookie CB Jalen Collins, I can see Alford playing on the outside and in the nickel packages for the Falcons this fall. If he improves his cover skills, I think he could have himself close to five interceptions, contingent on if the pass rush ever gets there.

Ricardo Allen: When the new coaching decided that a position change was part of Ricardo Allen’s future with the Atlanta Falcons, I’ll admit it, I was a bit skeptical. I liked him coming out of Purdue and saw promise in him after watching last season of HBO’s Hard Knocks. But breaking into the cornerback rotation was too difficult for Allen. Now that Atlanta took another CB in Jalen Collins in Round 2 of this year’s NFL Draft, perhaps a position change to free safety was the right call for Ricardo Allen.

The health of the Atlanta Falcons’ safeties the last two seasons has raised some cause for concern. When William Moore is unable to go on Sunday’s, the on-field leadership isn’t there in the secondary and the team takes a step back. Atlanta is trying to get FS play back to what it was like in Thomas DeCoud‘s Pro Bowl season in 2012.

Though he has never played free safety before, the coaching staff seems to really like Ricardo Allen there. He could end up the starter coming out of camp. In fact, many have anointed him the favorite to start at free safety for the Atlanta Falcons over Charles Godfrey and Kemal Ishmael. Coach Quinn likes his tackling ability as well as his vision to adequately play in the last line of defense.

Will this be a smooth transition for Ricardo Allen? Potentially. I see that having more opportunities for reps at free safety will bring out the best in the second-year player out of Purdue. The four pre-season games will go a long way in determining if Allen ends up the starter, but you have to believe that going up against a strong wide receiver group like the Atlanta Falcons have is a good head start for a player trying to stick in the NFL via position change.

Adrian Clayborn: I found the signing of former first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers DE Adrian Clayborn an intriguing one for the Atlanta Falcons. Clayborn came into the NFL with a ton of promise out of Iowa as a disruptive playmaker on the defensive line. When healthy, he is able to adequately make plays in the backfield for his defensive unit. However, injuries have cut short two of his four years in the NFL, ultimately allowing the Tampa Bay organization to cut ties with their former first-round pick.

Perhaps it’s because I remember Clayborn having strong performances against the Atlanta Falcons twice a year as a divisional foe, but I’ve always like his potential as an NFL defensive lineman. He has the quickness to play at defensive end but large enough to go inside at a 3-Technique if he has to as slightly undersized defensive tackle. His versatility was a major factor why Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff decided to bring the former Iowa Hawkeye to Flowery Branch this offseason.

Quinn refers to him as AC and sees him as crucial cog in the pass rushing scheme for the Atlanta Falcons. Clayborn will likely play on the opposite side of the field from rookie franchise pass rusher LEO Vic Beasley. I hope that Clayborn has a healthy 2015 as he could become that player the Falcons’ pass rush desperately needs, somebody who can wreak havoc from anywhere up front as an every-down type of player.

Atlanta benefits from stealing talent from an NFC South rival. Clayborn is well-versed in defensive strategies to stop both the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. Plus he can give insight about what it takes to keep the Buccaneers’ offense at bay. Should Adrian Clayborn stay healthy, his signing might go down as the best free agent acquisition the Atlanta Falcons front office made this past offseason.

Devonta Freeman: It seems like just about every day I write an article featuring second-year RB Devonta Freeman. His role in the Atlanta Falcons’ offense is expanding as he is likely the primary ball handler in Kyle Shanahan’s running back group. Though a hamstring injury suffered in yesterday’s practice might sideline Devonta for a few weeks, expect Freeman to continue to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders when he is medically cleared to take part in practice.

The guy doesn’t ever want to come off the field in the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive scheme. Whether it’s running the football, catching screen passes, blocking outside linebackers on the pass rush, even contributing on special teams, Devonta Freeman said he will do whatever it takes for the Atlanta Falcons to win.

I see Freeman as a rising leader in the Atlanta locker room. He came from a strong offensive system in college at Florida State, chock full of NFL talent and dynamic leaders like Jameis Winston and Kelvin Benjamin. Now that Devonta is no longer a rookie, expect him to command the RB corps in their meetings this season.

1,250 all-purpose yards and 7 scores seems like a realistic season for the young Atlanta running back. Should the zone blocking scheme of Kyle Shanahan work wonders with the rebuilding offensive line, Freeman could rush for over 1,000 yards in Year Two of his NFL service. On the offensive side of the ball, I believe that Devonta Freeman’s play as the featured back could either aid or hinder the offensive attack for the Dirty Birds this fall. I so hope it’s the former. Bearing four straight down years at RB could prove impossible to stomach for Rise Up Nation.

Jake Matthews: NFL players often make the biggest leap in their play between their rookie and sophomore years. Atlanta Falcons fans should hope that franchise left tackle Jake Matthews is one of those players making the leap in 2015.

Last year was a baptism by fire for the newest member in the line of the NFL’s first family. Jake embraced the positional change from RT to LT after Sam Baker‘s knee injury in the preseason. Even though he is a Matthews, demanding elite protection on the blind side as a rookie is an insurmountable order for a 23 year-old. Because of his football pedigree, many expect Jake to play like his dad Bruce Matthews on the left side of the offensive line.

After a season’s worth of NFL tape on his technique at left tackle, I’m sure that the Matthews clan has been able to rectify any issues in Jake’s protection game. He has the privilege to protect one of the NFL’s Top 10 QB’s in Matt Ryan every Sunday. I see Jake Matthews taking a gigantic leap forward in Year Two with the Atlanta Falcons.

Going against another first-round pick in OLB Vic Beasley in practice every day should only bring out the best in the two young studs on this Atlanta Falcons team. How Jake Matthews plays will play a huge part in Matt Ryan’s health and the offensive line’s overall success or failures this season.


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The Mathews part of the OP is exactly what jumped out at me. So many fans underestimate what a franchise level LT can do for a QB and offense. Last year we had a rookie laying on one leg, very different what a healthy Jake Mathews in his second year will bring.

Like Vel said, if our OL stays healthy, look out.

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The Mathews part of the OP is exactly what jumped out at me. So many fans underestimate what a franchise level LT can do for a QB and offense. Last year we had a rookie laying on one leg, very different what a healthy Jake Mathews in his second year will bring.

Like Vel said, if our OL stays healthy, look out.

Both are good points and Mathews will be fine. The concern is more about about C, LG, and RT. but more importantly, the depth behind all of them, because there will be injuries. Edited by Vandy
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