Last year around this time we were all trying to guess who would be the big breakout player for the Atlanta Falcons in 2011. It turned out that it was Sean Weatherspoon who vaulted himself into the limelight after putting in hardwork on both the practice and playing field. This year there are several players who are prime candidates who could break out over the 2012 season.
Sidbury was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 Draft as a potential pass rushing specialist. Many knew he would need a bit of developing, but no one understood why he had never gotten any significant time on the field. Going into 2011 many didn't expect Sidbury to flash or breakout after Atlanta signed Ray Edwards. Many assumed he would just be buried under the depth chart, but Sidbury managed to get around 207 pass rushing snaps and pick up four sacks which was the second most on the team and 18 pressures. Sidbury's pass rushing efficiency should earn him even more snaps and makes him a potential breakout player for Atlanta.
#2 Corey Peters
Peters was drafted in the third round of 2010, much to the chagrin of everyone who knew nothing about him. Many thought Atlanta had reached on Peters in the third, but he put together a solid rookie season and followed it up with an even better sophmore season where he recorded three sacks and 26 tackles, most from the 4-3 NT position. Peters consistent progression should continue into this year which makes him a big time potential break out player.
#3 Ray Edwards
Edwards was brought in during the 2011 off-season to bolster the pass rush of Atlanta's line. Unfortunately, Edwards didn't achieve that. However, it could be due in part to the fact that he had to get surgery done on his knee before the season started, which limited him throughout the season. Even though he didn't have the impact on the pass rush he did have a big impact on the run defense. The LE position had been manned by Kroy Biermann in 2010 and he struggled against the run at times. Edwards was able to bolster the DL against the run and allow Sean Weatherspoon and Curtis Lofton to both have great years. Now that Edwards is completely healthy and has had time to gel with the DL he is another great candidate for breakout player.
Raise your hand if you've heard Harry Douglas' name mentioned as a potential breakout player. The truth is we've heard it every year and so far every year has come and passed with marginal production out of Harry Douglas, but it's not all Douglas' fault. 2008 was HD's rookie year and he put up ok numbers in limited time. That is to be expected of a rookie WR. In 2009 he tore his ACL and was lost for the year, and in 2010 he still looked to be a bit hobbled by the knee. In 2011 he had his best season to date recording 498 yards over the season. As meager as those numbers seem they are actually pretty good for just how misused HD was under Mike Mularkey's scheme. In 2011 Harry Douglas was only on the field for 52.8% of the offensive snaps. Furthermore he only recieved 43 targets from the slot with 42.7% of those targets being either behind the LOS or short routes. The average targets out of the slot for WRs and TEs was 61 for most starting slot WRs and TEs. Harry Douglas was 18 targets below that mark. Expect that to change big time under Dirk Koetter's vertical offense. Douglas should see an increase in targets, catches, and targets on deep routes. All of this makes HD the most primed player to break out for the Falcons.
#5 Joe Hawley
Joe Hawley is a player who is constantly overlooked by the fans of the Falcons. After Garret Reynolds struggled at RG to start the season the coaches decided to plug Joe Hawley in at that position. Even though Hawley had his struggles he was a big step up from Reynolds. This year the newly arrived Peter Konz is expected to man the RG spot, but Hawley could push longtime starter Todd McClure for the starting center spot. Hawley, who came out of UNLV in the 2010 draft, has gotten more time than anybody expected him to get this early in his career. This has given him the time to gel with the offensive line and start to get his bearings as the future leader of the OL. Now that Peter Konz and Lamar Holmes have come in and are looking to secure starting spots it might be a good time to make a change at the center of the OL. Hawley should have a big opportunity when training camp opens up and this will make him another great candidate as a breakout player for Atlanta.
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