Atlanta Falcons: Grading Every Starter's 2012 Season

Justin BlanchardContributor IIJanuary 2, 2013

Atlanta Falcons: Grading Every Starter's 2012 Season

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    Many believed the Atlanta Falcons were headed for a solid 2012 season after naming Dirk Koetter and Mike Nolan coordinators in the offseason.

    But few predicted they would finish 13-3 and have the NFC's top seed heading into the playoffs.

    It took a team effort for the Falcons to achieve their goals, from the offense bailing out the defense one week, to the defense bailing out the offense the next, to special teams bailing them both out another.

    Here's a look at the grades for all of the Falcons' starters.

Quarterback

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    Matt Ryan: A

    Expectations were high for Ryan entering his fifth season in the NFL. Suffice to say he exceeded them.

    Ryan set career and franchise records in 2012, earning himself a Pro Bowl nod after throwing for 4,719 yards and 32 touchdowns.

    It wasn’t all perfect for Ryan, who had forgettable performances against the Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders. Yet those games aside, Ryan showed this year why he deserves to be considered among the league’s elite.

Running Back

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    Michael Turner: C-

    The Burner burns no more.

    In his worst season as a Falcon, Turner managed just 800 yards and a 3.6-yard per carry average in 2012.

    The 30-year-old running back showed signs of wear this season, running noticeably slower and less powerfully than in years past.

    Turner wasn’t completely ineffective this season, scoring 10 rushing touchdowns. Nonetheless, it’s clear his time as Atlanta’s primary offensive weapon has come and gone.

Receivers

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    Roddy White: A

    Age was just a number to the eight-year veteran White, who finished 2012 with 92 catches for more than 1,300 yards and seven touchdowns.

    White proved he still had plenty left in the tank, from burning cornerbacks deep to out-leaping the opposition  to outrunning defenders to making the impossible catch. 

    Yet the biggest proof he’s still a viable threat wasn’t his occasional jaw-dropping play, but rather his consistency: White was the go-to-guy in the passing game and he always delivered, with more than 75 percent of his receptions going for first downs.

    Julio Jones: A

    Jones gave us a taste of his ability in a strong rookie campaign in 2011. This year, he gave us a four-course meal. 

    The rising star simply dominated opposing defenses, catching 79 passes for 1,198 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first Pro Bowl season.

    Jones was the explosive complement to White’s consistency in Atlanta’s merciless passing attack, becoming as equally dangerous in the screen game as in the vertical game.

    And he's only going to get better. 

    Harry Douglas: B+

    Douglas was virtually non-existent in Atlanta's passing game this year, making just 38 catches for 396 yards and a touchdown, but that's no fault of his own.

    Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's plays rarely called for Douglas to get the ball thrown his way; instead, the fifth-year pro spent much of his time as a primary blocker on screen passes to Jones.

    Despite that, Douglas still made the most of his opportunities, leading the NFC South with a 97.4 catch percentage according to ESPN's Pat Yasinksas.

Tight End

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    Tony Gonzalez: A-

    Age was equally just a number to Gonzalez, as the 36-year-old continued to show no sings of slowing down after catching 93 passes for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.

    It was good enough for the future Hall of Famer to earn his 13th trip to the Pro Bowl and prove once again why he’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends to have ever played the game.

    While Gonzalez could have been a more consistent blocker, his primary goal was to make plays in the passing game, and there’s no question he was one of the league’s best in doing so this season.

Offensive Line

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    Sam Baker: B+

    If the Falcons ever had a comeback player of the year award, Baker would be its unanimous recipient.

    The former first-round pick went from benched midway through last season to one of the team’s most consistent offensive linemen in 2012. He allowed just six sacks in a year that saw him hold his own against such vaunted pass-rushers as Von Miller, Anthony Spencer and Jason Pierre-Paul.

    Baker still has some work to do in run-blocking, but an impressive 2012 campaign is definitely a step in the right direction.

    Justin Blalock: C+

    2012 could simply be summed up as follows for Justin Blalock: amazing in the passing game, terrible in the running game.

    Despite playing every offensive snap for the Falcons, Blalock allowed a team-lowest one sack and rarely allowed pressure.

    It was the complete opposite when it came to run-blocking, however, as the sixth-year veteran struggled to consistently generate push up front, playing a major role in Atlanta’s lack of success on inside runs.

    Todd McClure: C

    This season was one to forget for the Falcons' longtime anchor.

    McClure looked overmatched week in and week out, allowing loads of interior pressure on passing plays and unable to give Turner much running room on runs up the middle.

    Despite the obvious signs that McClure is past his prime, the Falcons decided to keep him as the starter, leaving one to wonder if third-year backup center Joe Hawley isn't as ready to take over his McClure's spot as originally believed.


    Peter Konz: D+

    In one of the offensive line’s most disappointing seasons under head coach Mike Smith, Konz proved to be its weakest link.

    The rookie lineman struggled mightily since overtaking Garrett Reynolds at right guard, allowing great pressure from his side on passing plays and contributing to Atlanta’s lack of a potent rushing attack.

    Konz may one day be considered among Atlanta’s best offensive linemen. That day simply hasn’t come yet.

     
    Tyson Clabo: A-

    Clabo overcame a slow start to regain his spot as the star of Atlanta’s offensive line by the end of the season.

    After giving up five sacks in the first four games, Clabo wasn't responsible for a single one the rest of the season, all while paving the way for some of the Falcons' biggest runs.

Defensive Line

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    DE John Abraham: A-

    Another year, another Pro Bowl-caliber season from the longtime veteran. 

    Abraham’s age may have forced him to play less than he would’ve liked, but it in no way kept him excelling. He had his fourth double-digit sack season in the past six seasons,set a career-high in passes deflected (seven) and tied his career-high for forced fumbles (six). 

      
    DE Kroy Biermann: B

    Perhaps the biggest winner from the Falcons' hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Biermann finally saw his unique jack-of-all trade talents maximized.

    Biermann found himself making tackles on run downs from a three-point stance, rushing the passer as a stand-up linebacker and dropping back 20 yards in coverage.

    All that culminated in a four-sack, 52-tackle season for the fifth-year pro. More importantly, it revitalized a career that otherwise seemed headed for a spot on the bench. 


    DT Jonathan Babineaux: B-

    Babineaux proved to be a force rushing the passer, recording 3.5 sacks.

    Lowering Babineaux’s grade is his difficulty stopping the run, as he was part of an interior defensive line that consistently saw opposing running backs breeze into linebacker territory and beyond. 


    DT Corey Peters: C-

    Coming off an impressive 2011 campaign, the expectation was Peters would continue his rise to defensive-tackle fame with an even better season in 2012.

    Instead, he fell off the face of the earth.

    Peters didn't record a sack and was average at best when it came to collapsing the pocket.

    Where he really regressed, though, was in the running game, as week in and week out Peters was run past and over, proving to be one of the main reasons Atlanta’s run defense was so poor for much of the season.

Linebackers

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    Sean Weatherspoon: B

    A man known perhaps best for his vocal leadership, Weatherspoon backed up his talk on the field, coming in second on the team in tackles with 95 and leading all linebackers in sacks with three. 

    The third-year pro still had trouble when it came to consistently wrapping up as he missed an abundance of tackles, but his missed plays pale in comparison to all the ones he made.  


    Stephen Nicholas: B-

    Perhaps one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL, the hardened veteran was the one making many of the stops the defensive line failed to make, giving him the team's top spot in tackles made with 97. 

    There were times when he perhaps could have given more effort rushing the passer and provided tighter coverage in the passing game, but otherwise 2012 was yet another solid year from the six-year pro. 

Secondary

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    CB Asante Samuel: A

    The Falcons sorely missed a ball-hawk at the cornerback position going into this season. They got that and more when they traded for Asante Samuel. 

    The former Patriot and Eagle batted down 19 passes and made five interceptions, including a 79-yard pick six that changed momentum in Atlanta's favor late in the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders.  

    Not to mention his work in run support, as Samuel made 36 stops. 

    And to think, it only cost the Falcons a seventh-round pick to get him. 


    CB Dunta Robinson: C+

    Another season, another year expecting so much more from Dunta Robinson. 

    The nine-year veteran was repeatedly picked on by opposing quarterbacks, often looking lost in coverage if not getting simply beat to the ball. 

    Robinson's saving grace is how much of an asset he was in run support, He came in third on the team in tackles with 80.

    But he's paid to stop the pass, and Robinson simply wasn't up to par in that respect. 


    CB Robert McClain: B

    Originally picked up just prior to the season as nothing more than cornerback depth, McClain beat out veterans Chris Owens and Dominique Franks for the nickel spot and went on to record 61 tackles, 10 passes defensed and an interception.  

    McClain quickly proved to be one of the surest tacklers in the secondary. Coupled with his ball skills, he made the Week 1 season-ending injury to Brent Grimes a quickly forgotten one. 

    S William Moore: A- 

    An injury forced Moore to miss the final four games of the season. But he was the one forcing injuries in the 12 games prior.

    The fourth-year veteran shined in Nolan's free-to-roam scheme, leading to a career-high 75 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. 

    Possessing a unique combination of the ability to lay the wood like a linebacker but cover opponents like a cornerback, one can only wonder how much more damage he would've done had he been healthy all year. 

    S Thomas DeCoud: B+

    Falcons fans complained when general manager Thomas Dimitroff signed DeCoud, an underperforming missed-tackles machine for the better part of his career, to an extension this past offseason.

    Little did they know DeCoud would be integral to the team’s defensive turnaround.

    DeCoud led the team in interceptions with six, but more importantly emerged as the secondary’s on-field leader.

    Missed tackles were still an issue for DeCoud, but overall it is clear that contract extension was well-deserved. 

Special Teams

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    K Matt Bryant: A

    Matt "Mr. Automatic" Bryant was just that this season, converting 33 of 38 field-goal and all 44 of his extra-point attempts. 

    Bryant never crumbled under pressure, most memorably making the game-winning 40-yard field goal against the Panthers in Week 4 and hitting a 55-yarder to defeat the Raiders as time was winding down. 

    P Matt Bosher: A

    Bosher was one of the NFL's most efficient punters of 2012, as his 60 punts netted an average of 47.4 yards.

    He also had a knack for kicking the ball deep on kickoffs, as he finished with the sixth-most touchbacks in the league with 45, according to The Football Database

    PR Dominique Franks: D+

    The only sore spot of an otherwise solid special teams, Franks was virtually ineffective as a punt returner, averaging an anemic 7.8 yards per return, with a long of just 28 yards, becoming better known for his fair catches than his plays on he field. 

    KR Jacquizz Rodgers: B-

    Rodgers may not have finished the season with a kickoff return for a touchdown (he recorded a long of 77 yards), but he rarely made a mistake and consistently gave the Falcons field position they could work with whenever he did return the ball.