Curtis Lofton is not a flashy linebacker. In fact, you can argue that he doesn't even put up flashy numbers. He's only racked up three sacks in his career, with two being last year, and that he only has one interception for his career, also last year.
What Lofton does bring though is consistency and leadership to the Atlanta Falcons defense. He picked up 118 tackles last season, which was tied for eighth best in the NFC.
He knows where every player is supposed to be on defense and knows their assignments. Lofton is responsible for making the adjustments at the line to try and put the defense in the best possible position to stop the opposition.
Physically, Lofton is a little on the short side for linebackers, but still possesses an explosive tackling ability that makes him a force in the run game. His effort makes up for what he may lack in the play-making department, as he is consistently around the ball on run plays and seems to be close on pass plays as well.
He possesses solid sideline-to-sideline speed and can make the vast majority of plays you can ask of your middle linebacker. He's strong enough to shed blocks and quick enough to get around blockers. Is he Patrick Willis? No, but he's still very, very good.
Lofton has also made small improvements every year. He truly became the leader of the defense last year and came into his own, even though his tackles fell off a little bit from the 2009 season. Along with recording two sacks and an interception, Lofton also forced three fumbles.
Lofton led the Falcons in tackles (both solo and assisted) and the forced fumbles. I think he will repeat that this year, and he may be asked to make a few more plays as a pass rusher. Somewhere in the 130 tackle, five or six-sack range is about what I'm expecting from him this year. He should be given a lot of freedom to do what he feels is best for the defense.
Lofton is one of the two or three most important players on the Falcons football team, and this could be the year where the rest of the country takes notice. The Falcons are going to be heavily scrutinized after their great season, and Lofton is going to have to become an even greater season if the Falcons are to finally get over the playoff hump.
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