Predicting Award Winners for the Atlanta Falcons' 2012 Season
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The Atlanta Falcons have multiple players who could be competing for the yearly awards around the NFL. The absolute best of the best will win the Most Valuable Player, Player of the Year award for their side of the ball or even Rookie of the Year, if they're a first-year player.
The Falcons are projected to have yet another winning season by multiple outlets. Their best players should be the candidates for the Falcons' versions of those awards.
Here are the players who would be best suited for the Falcons' projections.
Most Improved Player: MLB Akeem Dent
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Akeem Dent is arguably the hardest worker on the team and a great fit for the new defense.
During minicamp back in June, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that Dent has left quite the impression on coach Mike Nolan:
"Akeem is a young player that we’re hoping just continues to mature and get better and better,” Nolan said. “Hopefully that’s happening. He’s done a real good job out here."
Dent's improvement is going to be a big thing that will lead him to starting as the middle linebacker. Nolan's new scheme combined with his hard working attitude and natural athleticism will lead to Dent being the most improved player for the Falcons in 2012.
Comeback Player of the Year: LB Stephen Nicholas
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Stephen Nicholas was one of the better strong-side linebackers in the NFL when he was healthy.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter, he suffered both a quadriceps and a knee injury last season while also experiencing a foot injury this season in minicamp.
He should be fully healed by the time training camp starts and will be taking over an expanded role in the scheme as a three-down linebacker. The combination of the new role on the team and Nicholas fully recovering from his injuries will lead to him being the Falcons' comeback player of the year.
Breakout Star of the Year: RB Jacquizz Rodgers
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Michael Turner is aging, and it only makes sense for the Falcons to increase the roll that Jacquizz Rodgers plays in the 2012 season.
With Dirk Koetter bringing in the screen game, AtlantaFalcons.com's Daniel Cox notes that the team will be looking to do just that:
“From his background, that’s a good thing,” Rodgers said. “But it’s a different offense here. So (Koetter) can come in and work with the running backs he’s got and just build from there.”
Even Rodgers is excited about the larger role due the screen game. He should be expected to play more of a Darren Sproles-style role. He'll be taking more of the outside runs while also catching quite a few balls out of the backfield. In this new role, expect Rodgers to be Atlanta's breakout player.
Rookie of the Year: OG Peter Konz
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Peter Konz was a needed entity in the Falcons' offensive line after losing Harvey Dahl last season. He was the best center in the draft this year, yet he was also the third-best guard in the draft as well.
He will likely start as the right guard this year but as Coach Smith stated (h/t to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter):
“I thought Peter did a nice job. Of course, Peter is being cross-trained at two positions. It’s obvious that he’s a big strong guy.”
Atlanta likes to cross train their offensive linemen but expect the addition of Konz to help not just the running game but the pass protection too. He will be the best rookie on the Falcons on either side of the ball and will be the team's rookie of the year.
Offensive Player of the Year: WR Julio Jones
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When Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice speaks, people listen. And when he calls a player the next big thing at his form position, people listen intently. He appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter (h/t "ProFootballTalk) on July 11, 2012, and was raving about Julio Jones:
“I love this kid,” said Rice. “He’s awesome. He’s big, he’s fast. … I think he’s gonna have a breakout season this coming year.”
Thing is, that's just one small bit of praise from around the league about Jones. He could very well break Rice's single-season record if all the elements align and should be the best player on the Falcons offense this year.
Defensive Player of the Year: CB Brent Grimes
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Brent Grimes is the Falcons' franchise player and has been deserving of a long-term deal. As Pro Football Focus's Sam Monson notes, Grimes is one of the best corners in the NFL not named Darrelle Revis:
Brent Grimes was exceptional for the Falcons when he played, limiting receivers to catching just 44.6% of balls thrown into his coverage, and though he only intercepted one pass, he broke up another dozen.
Grimes will prove it again this year, as he should be able to replicate his 2011 season now that he's back to being completely healthy. His play should be expected to improve with the addition of fellow corner Asante Samuel and coach Mike Nolan to the defense. Grimes will win the Falcons' 2012 defensive player of the year.
Most Valuable Player: QB Matt Ryan
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Where Matt Ryan goes, the Falcons go. The team will only be as good as the fifth-year player allows them to be. However, Ron Jaworski likes the Falcons' signal-caller as the 11th-best quarterback in the NFL. He notes in his analysis why (h/t ESPN.com Staff):
Number 11 on my quarterback big board is Matt Ryan. You know what I really appreciate about Ryan? He has improved in each of his four years as the Falcons starter. How about this, folks? He’s won 69 percent of his NFL starts. That’s pretty good!
Ryan is the most important player. He should lead the Falcons to another record of at least 10-6 while throwing for over 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. The leadership and pure statistical ability will allow him to be the Falcons' MVP for yet another season.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He is also the Falcons' analyst at Drafttek and also runs the NFL draft website ScarDraft.com and the host of Kvetching Draftniks Radio.