The Falcons defense will be loaded with young talent next season. Here's a look at a few players who could take their performance to the next level in 2011.
Since the beginning of the Thomas Dimitroff era in Atlanta, offensive production has remained the focal point of the team's success. Relying on the big bruiser Michael Turner, young phenom Matt Ryan, and the ever-consistent Roddy White, Atlanta quickly came to be known across the NFL as an offensive team.
While the offense found its success early on, Dimitroff and his staff have spent the bulk of their time painstakingly rebuilding the Falcons' defense from the ground up. Over the past three season, 17 defensive draft picks were made, including seven in 2009 and two first rounders. This season, however, is when fans will really start seeing the fruits of Dimitroff's labors.
Much of the defense's success will ride on the backs of young defenders who have some pretty lofty expectations to fulfill. With so many high potential players on that side of the ball, there's bound to be someone who will take their play to another level. You only have to look back to 2010 to remember that the Falcons had an athletic but undersized CB in Brent Grimes ascend from obscurity to Pro Bowl honors and national recognition.
Let's take a quick look at who could do the same in 2011:
DE Kroy Biermann: The fifth-round pick out of Montana has quickly become a fan favorite for his knack for making the big play. I'm sure we all remember this fantastic interception against Cleveland last season. Biermann received a solid increase in playing time in 2010, and yet his sack total dipped to just 3.0 for the entire season. Many look at that total and instantly write Biermann off.
However, even though Kroy wasn't getting the sacks, he was still applying consistent pressure on the QB on passing plays. In fact, Biermann totaled 48 QB pressures on the season, which ranks him in the top 30 in the league. Biermann will only continue to get better with time. Give him the opportunity, and you have a guy who could be a serious complement to Abraham.
DT Peria Jerry: Interestingly enough, when you type his name into Google, the first suggestion that shows up is "Peria Jerry bust." Now I ask you, how is it fair to call someone a bust when he really only has one year of NFL experience under his belt?
In 2010, Jerry was used "more (as) a situational player," in the words of Mike Smith. The coaching staff kept him on a pretty tight leash after Jerry tore his ACL early in 2009. While it is fairly difficult to gauge the value of a defensive tackle through stats, we're still talking about a former first-round pick. He has exceptional pass rushing ability, a higher ceiling than Corey Peters, and certainly has the size to collapse the pocket as the larger of the two D-tackles.
CB Dominique Franks: Deep sleeper time. He is the definition of a "draft day steal." Projected by some to be a first or second-round draft pick, Franks fell all the way to the fifth round in the 2010 draft, and the Falcons promptly traded up to snatch him for themselves.
Simply put, the second-year CB out of Oklahoma is an athletic specimen. Listed at 6'0, 194, his biggest assets are his size and speed on the football field. He plays the position similar to Grimes in that he tends to shy away from contact at the line, instead relying on his speed to stay on opposing wideouts.
However, Franks is still a very raw cornerback. His weakness lies in his instincts and football intelligence, which is why he fell so far on draft day. However, he now has a year of seasoning in the NFL under his belt, watching incumbent starters Robinson and Grimes and hopefully learning and thing or two from them. Even though Chris Owens is still favored to win the nickel spot pending any free agent signings, a strong showing in training camp by Franks would at the very least give him increased playing time and an outside shot at the nickelback position.
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