By placing a strong emphasis on player development, the Thomas Dimitroff- and Dan Quinn-led Falcons have spent the last two years stockpiling young players with high ceilings. Here's a look at five such players who look ready to break out in 2017.
Grady Jarrett, DT
Super Bowl LI may go down as the game when Jarrett went from an up-and-comer to an established force. By tying the Super Bowl record in sacks (three), he showed the world what he can accomplish in Quinn's defense. The Clemson product was solid throughout the year, too, producing against the run and pass. About to enter his third year in the NFL, Jarrett has the experience, drive and confidence needed to become a premier nose tackle.
Austin Hooper, TE
Like Jarrett, Hooper shined in SBLI, catching three passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. He showed flashes of brilliance throughout his first NFL campaign, averaging 14.3 yards per catch in the regular season and reeling in two receptions of 40-plus yards. That production made him the No. 2 rookie tight end, according to Pro Football Focus. Considering he played just two years at Stanford, the 6-foot-4, 248-pounder made a smooth transition to the pro ranks. With the right development, he could become Atlanta's No. 1 tight end in 2017.
De'Vondre Campbell, LB
Although the Falcons drafted Campbell in the fourth round, they weren't afraid to make him a starter from the get-go. The University of Minnesota alum used his size and football IQ to record 48 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in 11 regular-season games. Now, with a strong understanding of the defensive playbook, he's in position to build on his success, learn from his mistakes and, alongside Deion Jones, solidify Atlanta's linebacking corps.
Justin Hardy, WR
Hardy showed a lot of promise during his first two years in the NFL, averaging over nine yards per catch and gaining 31 first downs. Atlanta's offense, which will not change its scheme in 2017, should continue to be a top-ranked unit, and Hardy, with a chance to move up the wide receiver depth chart, can help that happen with his reliable hands, aggressiveness and blocking ability.
Jalen Collins, CB
After Desmond Trufant was lost for the year with a shoulder injury, Collins stepped in and impressed as a starter at outside cornerback. In addition to breaking up nine passes, he forced three turnovers – two interceptions and a crucial fumble in the NFC Championship Game that he recovered in Atlanta's end zone. While Trufant's return could lessen Collins' role next season, his growth can help the Falcons put together more secondary depth than they've had in a long time.