3 Under-the-Radar Atlanta Falcons Ready to Break out in 2012
When it comes to predicting breakout players for the Atlanta Falcons in 2012, a number of names come up first: Julio Jones, Ray Edwards and Jacquizz Rodgers.
But these are the high-profile candidates.
While Jones and the others are the talk of the town at the moment, other less-heralded Falcons may join their ranks by the end of the season.
Here are three under-the-radar Falcons poised for breakout seasons in 2012.
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Receiver Harry Douglas showed how explosive he could be in the slot in last year's eight-catch, 133-yard performance against the New Orleans Saints.
However, that proved to be one of the few times ex-offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey made use of Douglas' talent.
You can bet new coordinator Dirk Koetter won't make the same mistake.
Three years removed from a knee injury which took away his entire sophomore season, the Falcons' No. 3 receiver may now be as dangerous as ever—both on special teams, where he has the opportunity to put his punt-returning skills on display, and on offense by virtue of a more vertical-oriented passing attack.
Koetter's schemes should get Douglas into more mismatches from the slot position and make use of his speed down the field, all the while giving him more opportunities to create plays in space with more screen passes headed his way.
He often seemed to be the forgotten man in Mularkey's offense, but under Koetter, Douglas very well could be jettisoned to the forefront this year.
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When healthy, William Moore is perhaps one of the most-feared safeties in the league.
Unfortunately, health has been an issue in Moore's three years as a Falcon.
The Missouri product missed nearly his entire rookie season with a knee injury while a quadriceps injury cost him four games last year.
Now back to full strength and playing under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Moore could be poised for a career year.
The Falcons' hard-hitting safety will see his role expand in Nolan's new aggressive, instincts-based scheme, and that can only benefit Moore's cause while equally spelling pain for opposing receivers coming across the middle.
If he can manage to stay on the field for all 16 games this season, Moore has an opportunity to step into elite territory in 2012.
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Not often does a player break out at 29 years old, but linebacker Stephen Nicholas has a chance to do just that this year.
Drafted by the Falcons in 2007, Nicholas became the team's starting strong-side linebacker in his third season in the league.
That 2009 season proved to be the best of his career: Nicholas recorded 80 tackles and three sacks and batted down three passes that year.
But he failed to improve upon that performance the following year, and injuries slowed him down in 2011.
Having recently been cleared to play, Nicholas now has the opportunity to become a star in Nolan's new defense. That's especially true if coaches prefer him over second-year pro Akeem Dent to play alongside Sean Weatherspoon when the defense goes to a 4-2-5 set.
Nicholas' tackling efficiency was revealed to be among the league's best linebackers in a recent Pro Football Focus report. If he can stay on the field, 2012 may be the year Nicholas finally earns nation-wide recognition for his play.