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Analyzing 2nd-Year Leap Scenarios for the Falcons' 2011 Draft Class

WR Julio Jones found the end zone in each of his last four games: six scores in December, eight for the season.
WR Julio Jones found the end zone in each of his last four games: six scores in December, eight for the season.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Knox BardeenNFC South Lead WriterMay 8, 2012

With rookie minicamp still four days away, it’s way too early to know anything about how the Atlanta Falcons 2012 NFL draft call will perform. But, the 2012 season could be a launching point for several players from last year’s draft class.

The Falcons moved up 21 spots in the 2011 draft to grab wide receiver Julio Jones. Because of that draft-day deal, Atlanta gave up picks in 2011 and 2012. Only six players were taken last year, but four could explode onto the scene just a year after being drafted.

Jones, taken in the first round, already arrived on the scene, but his numbers could skyrocket in 2012. He caught 54 passes for 959 yards and eight touchdowns last year, but missed three entire games due to injury and all but one offensive series of another. Give Jones those four games, give Jones an offseason to work with Matt Ryan and the offseason, give Jones all this time to do film-room work and watch how good he could be.

Just by giving Jones 16 games of stats using last year’s numbers, he would catch 72 passes for 1,279 yards and score 11 touchdowns. 2012 might actually be much better.

Akeem Dent was Atlanta’s third-round selection and spent most of the season on special teams. Special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong frequently praised Dent’s work ethic and intelligence as Dent led the team in special-teams tackles.

Dent also spent much time learning the intricacies of the middle linebacker position from then-middle linebacker Curtis Lofton. Because Lofton left Atlanta via free agency, Dent is in a position to battle for the open middle linebacker position with free-agent acquisition Lofa Tatupu. The worst-case scenario is that Dent loses the battle with Tatupu, but still leads Atlanta on special teams. The best-case scenario could see Dent as Atlanta’s starting middle linebacker where he might lead the team in tackles, not just special teams.

Jacquizz Rodgers' role with Atlanta will increase in 2012.
Jacquizz Rodgers' role with Atlanta will increase in 2012.Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Running back Jacquizz Rodgers was taken in the fifth round last year and carried the ball 57 times in 2011. He’ll be a much bigger part of Atlanta’s offense in 2012 as the Falcons reduce Michael Turner’s workload to preserve their leading rusher.

Rodgers also caught 21 passes out of the backfield last year and could see that number greatly increase as new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter plans to utilize the screen pass much more frequently in the Falcons’ new offensive scheme.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see Rodgers carry the ball 100 times in 2012 and catch 50 passes. Head coach Mike Smith sees Rodgers as a potential every-down back. The increased number of touches he’ll get in 2012 will go a long way towards showing whether Smith is right or not.

Sixth-round pick Matt Bosher was the starting punter from Day 1. But the 2011 season wasn’t all easy going from the former Miami Hurricane.

Matt Bosher raised his average by almost 10 yards per punt from Week 1 to Week 16 in 2011.
Matt Bosher raised his average by almost 10 yards per punt from Week 1 to Week 16 in 2011.Al Bello/Getty Images

Bosher’s season average was 42.7 yards per punt, but he didn’t land above the 40-plus yards per kick average until Week 6. Bosher averaged 36.4 yards per punt on his first 24 kicks of his professional career, but rebounded to land at 46 yards per punt over his final 46 punts.

Bosher’s improvement should continue into 2012, which might land him in the top 10 landscape on the punting scene.

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