The Falcons knew that some young players would have to step up and play larger roles to compensate for players this team has lost to the injured reserve list, and several members of Atlanta's rookie class answered the call following the Falcons bye week in the team's 31-23 win over Tampa Bay last Sunday.
First-round pick Desmond Trufant stepped into Robert McClain's slot corner position in Atlanta's nickel package and teamed with fellow rookie corner Robert Alford to upgrade that unit, while defensive ends Stansly Maponga and Malliciah Goodman added depth to the defensive line.
Which Falcons Rookie Has Been the Most Impressive So Far?
Moreover, undrafted linebackers Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow continued to lead the way for Atlanta's depleted linebacking corps, and undrafted wide receiver Darius Johnson caught two passes in his NFL debut after being elevated from the practice squad last week.
While Trufant and Alford were expected to be an immediate contributors, few expected this year's rookie class to feature six other players on Atlanta's two-deep depth chart and three other rotational players (Johnson, Goodman and Levine Toilolo) eight weeks into the season.
Indeed, while this year's rookie group has certainly had its share of growing pains through the first few weeks of the season, their injury-induced baptism by fire appears to be paying off.
|Player||Draft Position||Games Played/Started||Stats|
|Desmond Trufant||First Round||6/6||28 tackles, 6 passes defensed|
|Robert Alford||Second Round||6/0||10 tackles, 4 passes defensed, 1 interception|
|Malliciah Goodman||Fourth Round||6/0||4 tackles|
|Levine Toilolo||Fourth Round||6/0||5 receptions, 25 yards, 2 touchdowns|
|Joplo Bartu||Undrafted Free Agent||6/5||29 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 pass defensed|
|Paul Worrilow||Undrafted Free Agent||6/2||11 tackles|
|Darius Johnson||Undrafted Free Agent||1/0||2 receptions, 24 yards|
In addition to the players from this year's rookie class, Atlanta is also relying heavily on players like Jacquizz Rodgers, Akeem Dent, Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Jonathan Massaquoi and Drew Davis from its previous two rookie classes.
In fact, if you factor in a healthy Julio Jones, the 2011 rookie class may end up rivaling Atlanta's 2008 rookie class in terms of productivity. Both classes are widely considered to be Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff's best hauls in Atlanta.
By the end of this season, this 2013 rookie class could make an argument to be a part of that conversation too.
While injuries have certainly played a role, perhaps this sudden youth movement is part of what Dimitroff had in mind last offseason when he cut veterans like Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, John Abraham and Tyson Clabo while opting not to re-sign Brent Grimes.
We'll learn whether these young players can grow up quickly enough for the Falcons to make a playoff push over these last 10 weeks soon enough, but whether they do or not, the Falcons youth movement looks like its picking up a little bit of steam.