We’ve all heard the hype before. “Player A looks faster than ever this year. Player X has been lighting up training camp.” Many times, Peria Jerry a player looks unstoppable during camp and the preseason, only to disappear when the games start to count. That is not the case with these five players.
These are players in a position to make huge strides in 2014, whether it be due to a beneficial coaching or scheme change, an intense offseason of training, or simply a player reaching his full potential. These players have worked extremely hard to get to where they are now, and they’re ready to make a name for themselves in the NFL.
Let’s take a look at the top five Falcons ready to make the leap.
5) Joe Hawley, Center
Joe Hawley is a guy that looked like a complete bust until the latter part of last season. Stepping in for the often-overmatched Peter Konz, Hawley proved to be an upgrade in all three phases of center play: run blocking, pass blocking, and making the correct line calls. Hawley additionally displayed the toughness and tenacity that was nonexistent for the Falcons’ offensive line throughout 2013.
With new offensive line coach Mike Tice at the helm, Hawley now has a fiery, tough guy much like himself to learn from and grow with. In addition, new right guard Jon Asamoah will help Hawley a prodigious amount. Not only is Asamoah a tremendous pass blocker, but not having to constantly clean up former Falcon Garrett Reynolds’ mistakes will free up Hawley to simply focus on blocking the man in front of him. With the proficient Asamoah and the rock-solid Justin Blalock flanking him, Hawley shouldn’t have any problems shutting down opponent’s stunts and twists.
4) Levine Toilolo, Tight End
Tony Gonzalez retired, and the Falcons didn’t bring in anyone this offseason to attempt to replace him — enter 22-year old Levine Toilolo. Toilolo embarks on the 2014 season as the number one tight end on the depth chart, and he should see a lot more action than in his rookie year when he learned behind a future Hall of Famer. Standing at a towering 6-foot-8, the second-year tight end is a mismatch for almost any defensive player based on his height alone, and he should develop into a dangerous red zone and intermediate level target for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Ryan has been impressed with Toilolo early on in 2014.
“Levine’s been in here for a couple weeks prior to us starting (voluntary workouts), and that’s been a good thing for us,” Ryan said. “I think he learned so much from Tony, though, the past two years — just the way that he prepares, taking care of his body. I think Levine looks as good as he has since he’s been here. I think he’s put on a little bit of weight and put on weight in the right spot, which is good.”
Toilolo likely won’t put up the reception or yardage numbers that Gonzalez did, but with an expected increase in targets, he could realistically put up eight or more touchdowns in the Falcons’ offense.