By Bill Pivetz @BPiv_Sports on April 7, 2014
The Atlanta Falcons went from NFC Championship game in 2012 to 4-12 last season. Julio Jones was out for 11 games and Roddy White wasn't 100 percent throughout the season. Harry Douglas stepped up big time. Tony Gonzalez played well in his final season, but Matt Ryan struggled without his superstar wide receiver. The Falcons are poised to get back to the playoffs, and here are five players ready to break out in 2014.
Harry Douglas played as a superstar wide receiver in the absence of Julio Jones. He finished the season with 85 receptions for 1,067 yards and two touchdowns. Jones is still not 100 percent and Roddy White is getting up there in age. The next receiver to step up will be Drew Davis. He had 12 receptions on 17 targets for 216 yards and two touchdowns. If Jones or White suffer another injury, Davis will be ready to fill in and put up some numbers.
The Falcons gained some cap room by releasing some players. One of note was cornerback Asante Samuel. In 10 games, he had just one interception and three passes defended. With Samuel gone, fellow cornerback Desmond Trufant will be the anchor of the secondary. As a rookie, he started all 16 games and finished with two picks and 17 passes defended. Trufant is the next generation of great cornerbacks, and 2014 will be his shining season.
The Falcons signed former Chicago Bears punt/kick returner Devin Hester. I believe the Falcons will use him in that role, but he may make an appearance or two at the wide receiver position. In eight seasons, Hester has 13 punt returns and five kick returns for touchdowns. He also has 14 career touchdowns as a wide receiver. Matt Ryan could use all the weapons he can get, and Hester can create trouble for defenses.
Steven Jackson left the St. Louis Rams to sign with the Falcons, but his first season with Atlanta was mediocre at best. He missed four games early in the season, but came back strong in the final games. In Jackson's absence, Jacquizz Rodgers had a career-high 96 carries for 332 yards and two scores. Backup running back Jason Snelling retired, creating more room for Rodgers to be the clear No. 2 guy.
The final player ready for a breakout season with the Falcons is tight end Levine Toilolo. In 2013, he was the No. 3 guy behind Gonzalez and Chase Coffman. Toilolo started in three games and caught 11 passes, two of them for touchdowns in his first season. Unless the Falcons find another tight end in the draft, Toilolo will be the starter in 2014. He's 6-foot-8 and a perfect end zone target for Ryan.
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