As the offseason rolls on, we'll continue our look at the Falcons’ pre-training camp roster by discussing which players are poised for breakout seasons in 2013.
What's a breakout season? For the purposes of our discussion, we'll simply define a breakout season as one in which the player reaches a major milestone that he hasn't yet hit in his career (Pro Bowl, leading the team in a key statistical category, making an impact as a full-time starter for the first time, etc.).
Since the rookies have not competed in full pads yet, this evaluation will be limited to veteran players with at least one year on the team.
The players who made this list were evaluated based on their age, on-field performance and the role they will be expected to play for the team in 2013.
Let’s dive in.
Weatherspoon has flirted with greatness since entering Atlanta’s starting lineup in 2010, and some experts felt he was a Pro Bowl snub in 2012.
With another year in Mike Nolan’s attacking scheme and more national television exposure for the Falcons, Weatherspoon should quickly cement his status as one of the best 4-3 outside linebackers in football.
Lamar Holmes is probably the biggest mystery on Atlanta’s roster right now. Physically he’s got everything you want in an offensive tackle at the NFL level.
The question is whether he learned enough during his “redshirt” rookie season to step into Tyson Clabo’s shoes this year.
I’m going to give Holmes the benefit of the doubt based on the talent around him on Atlanta’s offense, the quality of the Falcons’ coaching staff and Thomas Dimitroff’s talent evaluation.
If Holmes can stay healthy and play with a nasty streak, the Falcons could have a special player because of his rare combination of size and athleticism.
Like Lamar Holmes, Peters was once a Thomas Dimitroff draft pick that made many a Falcons fan ask “why did he take him there?” As usual, Dimitroff proved to be right about Peters when he plucked him off of the board in the third round of the 2010 draft.
Peters was bothered by an injury at the start of last season, but he is primed to play a full season in 2013 and provide the majority of Atlanta’s interior pass rush.
The always active Peters had a strong sophomore campaign before his injury cost him some time (and money) in 2012, and as he enters his fourth year he is close to taking the leadership torch away from Jonathan Babineaux on a Falcons’ defensive line that will have plenty of questions to answer in training camp.
Make Thomas Dimitroff look like a genius after your rookie season? Check.
Earn a spot on the Pro Bowl and steal the show in the first half of the NFC Championship game? Check.
So how does Julio Jones “break out” in 2013? By overtaking Roddy White as Atlanta’s No. 1 receiver and leading the team in receptions.
Sure, the Falcons are thrilled to have Tony Gonzalez back, and it’s tough to imagine Roddy White’s game falling off, but let’s face it. Julio Jones is the one player on this offense who truly terrifies opposing defensive coordinators.
If Jones makes the kind of leap that he did between his rookie and sophomore campaign, he may be on his way to making Gil Brandt look like a genius too.
After Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann at defensive end, the spotlight is on Jonathan Massaquoi because he’s most senior in terms of when and where he was drafted amongst the group that includes Cliff Matthews (Matthews was drafted in 2011, but he was taken two rounds behind where Massaquoi was), Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga.
Like Lamar Holmes, Massaquoi is blessed with the physical tools to compete at a high level at his position. Osi Umenyiora’s presence should make things even easier since Umenyiora understands the kind of rookie season that Massaquoi went through. The ex-Giant didn’t emerge as a full-time starter until he was a couple of years into his career with New York.
Massaquoi will probably get every opportunity to be Umenyiora’s primary backup in the defensive end rotation, and I expect him to take full advantage of the chance to establish his own legacy in the NFL because he will learn the nuances of his position directly from Umenyiora.
Who are your breakout candidates for the Falcons in 2013?