Atlanta Falcons: Ten Impact Players for the 2010 Season
As we prepare to go into the 2010 NFL season, we've spent much of this time discussing the players who have been drafted and analyzing the potential battles in training camp.
That's all well and fine, but come Sept. 12 at Pittsburgh, it's going to be those special impact players that will determine whether or not Atlanta returns to the postseason.
We're going to breakdown those players that will have the greatest impact on the Atlanta Falcons in 2010 and why you, the NFL fan, will be talking about them come January. Also, we're going to predict (as only we can) their final statistics for the season.
Let's break it down from 10-1 starting with a surprise entry:
10) Dominique Franks
Dominique Franks was a fifth round selection of the Falcons in the 2010 Draft. The two-time All Big 12 Conference selection was known for his ability to not only display superior athleticism in pass coverage as both a corner and safety, but also for his play on special teams as a punt returner.
Potential Impact: How can a fifth round pick be an impact player for the Falcons in 2010? First, Franks possesses the athleticism and talent to play a multitude of positions, a must for a team that will face spread offenses this year.
Also, with WR Harry Douglas still recovering from his knee injury, Franks will see more time as a returner, and he will be an explosive force on special teams.
Opposing teams will sleep on him early, but I believe that he will make a difference in at least three games this year on special teams play alone.
Final Statistics: one INT, two Punt Return TDs, 38 tackles
9) John Abraham
In 2009, John Abraham saw a drop in his sack totals, from 16 to five-and-a-half. He was the recipient of many double teams as a result of injuries to Atlanta's defensive line.
Potential Impact: Due to the return of DT Peria Jerry and the improvement of Jamaal Anderson, opposing offensive lines may find it difficult to double team Abraham again in 2010.
Also, look for him to return to the part-time status he enjoyed in 2008 due to increased depth, which will increase his sack totals. As a result, he will become the force he was back in 2008 when he was a second team All-Pro.
Abraham is the leader of the defense and even in the twilight of his career, he will give offensive tackles nightmares as he returns to form.
Final Statistics: 41 tackles, 10.5 sacks.
8) Kroy Biermann
Biermann made his presence known last season as the second year DE from Montana totaling five sacks and was also a substitute on kickoffs when Matt Bryant and Michael Koenen were felled by injuries.
Potential Impact: He will be known for more than just his last name as he will be a starter on the defensive line.
Along with Abraham, expect Biermann to take Atlanta's defense to another level by making clutch plays for those daring to double team Abraham. Fans will hear his name being mentioned often next season.
Final Statistics: four-and-a-half sacks, three forced fumbles
7) Dunta Robinson
Robinson was the big free agent acquisition for the Falcons this past offseason, receiving a six-year deal to help shore up the porous pass defense of last year. He is the Houston Texans' all-time leader in interceptions and passes defended.
Potential Impact: To say why Robinson is so low on this list is a testament to the amazing depth Atlanta has in talent this year.
Robinson will more than likely match up against the league's better receivers, which is a necessity if you're going to win in the NFC South. He will make Atlanta's secondary more formidable with his ability to make the big plays in pass coverage.
Also, he will allow Atlanta to use more nickel coverages and lower the third down conversion rate of opposing offenses.
Final Statistics: five INTs, 32 tackles
6) Sam Baker
The third-year tackle out of USC was instrumental in making Atlanta the second best rushing team in the NFL in 2008. He has battled injuries throughout his young NFL career, but will be counted on to anchor an improved offensive line.
Potential Impact: If Atlanta is going to return to dominance in the rushing attack, it starts with Baker. He will be able to pave the way for the running game to keep defenses on their heels while protecting the blind side.
Championship teams are made at the left tackle position, and his impact will go a long way towards taking Atlanta to that level.
5) Tony Gonzalez
The soon to be Hall of Fame tight end is approaching 1000 catches in his illustrious career. Gonzalez quickly became a favorite target of QB Matt Ryan, especially in the red zone.
Potential Impact: No way Atlanta makes it to the postseason without the clutch play of TG. When Atlanta makes it to the red zone, expect his number to be called, regardless of who may be covering him.
Atlanta will open up the passing game more this season, and whether it's on third or even fourth down, Gonzalez will come through more often than not. It is his play that will determine if he finally gets to win an NFL playoff game before he rides off into the sunset.
Final Statistics: 84 catches, eight TDs
4) Roddy White
Roddy White has had three consecutive 1,000-yard catching seasons while earning two Pro Bowl berths in that span. Last season he set a Falcons single game record with 210 yards catching against San Francisco.
Potential Impact: White is one of the major reasons Atlanta's offense is always a threat to win games. He has emerged from the Michael Vick days of being labeled a bust to one of the NFC's premiere receivers.
This year his name will be mentioned alongside guys like Reggie Wayne and Brandon Marshall as White takes his game to another level.
Final Statistics: 102 catches, nine TDs
3) Curtis Lofton
In 2009, Curtis Lofton established himself as one of the up-and-coming linebackers in the league. He has led the team with 268 tackles since being drafted in the second round out of Oklahoma in 2008.
Potential Impact: There is a reason that NFL insiders know that Lofton is an All-Pro for years to come—he has a nose for the big play.
In addition to drafting LB Sean Witherspoon in the 2010 draft, Atlanta's linebacking corps will be deeper than ever. Lofton will anchor this defense and will create headaches for offenses throughout the league.
Final Statistics: two INTs, three sacks, 159 tackles
2) Michael Turner
Turner's 2009 season took a turn for the worse as his ankle injury effectively ended his chances to repeat his 2008 success. Atlanta is 10-2 when Turner rushes over 100 yards.
Potential Impact: Turner has lost weight this offseason to eliminate any chance of another leg injury.
Also, Coach Mike Smith is going to reduce Turner's workload and share it with RBs Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood. While the latter RBs are a nice change of pace, Turner is the wrecking ball that defenses fear. As he goes, so does the Falcons offense.
He will return to his 'Burner' status of 2008.
Final Statistics: 1,247 yards, 10 TDs
1) Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan saw a drop in his statistics last year as he threw for 2,916 yards and more INTs. However, he did throw for a career-high 329 yards in Week Five against San Francisco.
Potential Impact: It is an easy thing to say that the Falcons are a totally different team without "The Franchise" behind center.
One of the reasons people look to Atlanta's missing the playoffs was due to the turf toe that Ryan suffered in the latter half of the year, costing him the opportunity to play in important games against the Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints.
A return of WR Harry Douglas and RB Michael Turner gives Ryan more weapons as his disposal. Also, expect his accuracy to increase against weaker secondaries this year.
He won't reach MVP-talk (yet) but it will be Matt Ryan's leadership that determines whether or not Atlanta not only returns to the playoffs but makes any potential run to the Super Bowl.
Final Statistics: 3,512 yards passing, 25 TDs, 11 INTs