For all football players, this offseason is going to be a peculiar one, but for rookies especially, they are going to have to catch on quickly if they want to see much of the field. That can be seen as good and bad news for the Falcons. The good news is they only have six rookies, so they don’t have to teach a bunch of players totally new schemes with a limited offseason and two fewer preseason games. The bad news is they need a few of these guys to become playmakers rather quickly if they want to get back to the playoffs.
6. Jaylinn Hawkins
Hawkins was the Falcons second pick in the fourth round, which many viewed as a reach. However, as always, Dan Quinn seemed thrilled to have landed his guy. He’s an in the box safety that loves to hit but also showed terrific ball-hawking skills while at California. However, the Falcons are loaded at the safety position, beginning with Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee. Even after those three, it’s going to take some impressive play early on to be considered the fourth man in line, which isn’t going to be easy to do with a shortened offseason. At most, expect Hawkins to play a role on special teams as he learns the ropes as a safety in the NFL.
5. Sterling Hofrichter
The Falcons used their seventh-round selection on a punter! The last time they did that was 2011 when they picked Matt Bosher in the sixth round. That turned out pretty well, as he had a terrific nine-year career with the team that ended this past season. Hofrichter will be competing with Ryan Allen for the job, but I give him an edge since the Falcons spent a draft pick on him, and punters are some of the most undervalued commodities in the sport. Special teams matter.
4. Matt Hennessy
This was the most difficult one to judge because Hennessy could be the most impactful rookie on this list by a mile. Right now, the only hole on the Falcons offense lies at left guard. If Hennessy ends up being the answer at the position as a rookie, this Atlanta offense will look a lot like 2016. However, it will be a challenging job for him to win, especially in a shorter offseason. The Falcons have four other guys with substantially more experience than Hennessy in Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, Justin McCray, and Matt Gono battling for the same position. Hennessy’s potential to be a significant contributor is there, but the path to earn playing time will be challenging.
3. Mykal Walker
Walker was the Falcons first selection of the fourth round. He’s an athletic linebacker that needs some work but has many of the same traits that De’Vondre Campbell had when he came out of college. I don’t think Walker has a ceiling nearly as high as Hennessy, who could be a starter in this league for 10+ years. However, his path to playing time as a rookie is much easier. He will be competing for the third linebacker’s role from the start and should have an immediate impact on special teams. If Foyesade Oluokun or Deion Jones are sidelined, Walker will see a ton of the field as a rookie.
2. Marlon Davidson
Davidson is the player I’m most excited to see play as a rookie. He’s an ox on the interior that is impossible to move, posesses some advanced pass-rushing moves, and has an unlimited motor. He also just loves the game of football. I don’t think it will take long for him to catch on and become the full-time starter next to Grady Jarrett, and immediately, Davidson will be apart of the defensive line rotation.
1. A.J. Terrell
This one couldn’t be more obvious, and it’s not just because Terrell was the Falcons first pick. Atlanta desperately needs him to step in and start from day one, and they need him to play well. This secondary is as thin as paper, and I firmly believe Terrell has the skill set to succeed. However, whether it be positive or negative, his impact will likely determine how far the Falcons can go this season. That’s a pretty horrifying thought with a limited offseason.
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