Which Falcons are most likely to breakout in 2022?

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Every year the NFL welcomes a completely unexpected shining star to national headlines. For the Falcons, it was Cordarrelle Patterson last season. Outside of Kyle Pitts, Patterson was the only consistent weapon in 2021. The long-time return man set career highs in receiving, rushing, and total touchdowns — 618 rushing yards (4.0 YPC), six rushing touchdowns, 548 receiving yards (10.5 YPR) and five receiving touchdowns. Those 11 total touchdowns were actually more than he totaled on offense in the past six seasons combined. So, who will be the Falcons’ Cordarrelle Patterson of this year?

Kyle Pitts

It kind of feels silly to include Pitts in this group. After all, he broke nearly every rookie or tight end receiving record available on his way to the first Pro Bowl by a rookie tight end since 2002. However, it is plausible that Pitts threatens every single-season tight end record this year. After averaging a league-leading 15.1 yards per catch in 2021, it isn’t inconceivable for him to break Travis Kelce‘s 1,416-yard record. Kelce hauled in 105 receptions in 2020, while Pitts only totaled 68 this past season. The record will be within reach if Pitts can get close to the same amount of catches while still averaging similar yards per reception. That isn’t even considering the fact that Pitts is a matchup nightmare in the red zone and only totaled one touchdown during his rookie campaign. The influence of our next breakout candidate should help alleviate the focus defenses put on Pitts in the red area.

Drake London

London will be the lead dog in Atlanta’s receiver room, despite never playing a game at the professional level. He’ll have every chance to threaten the team’s rookie receiving records, but what makes him a true breakout player is his ability to inspire through his play. Not that Pitts isn’t an imposing player, but the ferocity that London displays is galvanizing. When teammates see London fighting tooth and nail for first downs in the fourth quarter of a game the team’s already lost, it should make them wonder if they’re truly doing the most they can. I love the fight he brings to this team.

Richie Grant

This one is rather obvious. Grant played sparingly during his rookie season, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Dean Pees’ defense is incredibly complex, and the second-rounder’s mental capacity just wasn’t there. I have been outspoken about how perfect Grant’s physical characteristics and this scheme complement each other, and I’m not changing course. If he continues to develop and understand how offenses are trying to attack him, Grant will be a difference-maker in this league.

Marcus Mariota

Mariota’s fall from grace has been well-documented. From Heisman Trophy winner to losing his job to Ryan Tannehill to backing up Derek Carr, Mariota has had a whirlwind of a career. But this year, he’ll have his first legitimate shot at being a team’s starting quarterback since Tennessee. Given his experience in Arthur Smith’s system, the chemistry should already allow him to immediately take the reigns and prove he’s a starting-caliber quarterback. A breakout candidate doesn’t have to be a Pro Bowler; it just has to be an above-expected season, which I think Mariota is capable of.

Lorenzo Carter

Carter will be tasked with being the veteran in the EDGE room, which is crazy to say after only four NFL seasons. But the crew of Arnold Ebiketie, Ade Ogundeji, and DeAngelo Malone is as inexperienced as any position group in the league. In Atlanta, Carter has the chance to start every single game, something he’s only done once in his career. If the former UGA Bulldog totals more than five sacks, seven tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, and 13 quarterback hits, he’ll be a breakout player. Now, those might not seem like high marks, especially considering how bad the Falcons’ pass rush was a year ago, but those would all be career-highs for Carter. And that, folks, is what I call a breakout campaign.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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