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Julio Jones, five other Falcons rank among ESPN's top 100 NFL players for 2017

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With little over a week remaining before the season kicks off on Sept. 7, ESPN has released its predictions for who will be the top 100 players of the 2017 season. Fifty-three experts contributed to this ranking and there are many familiar names scattered throughout the list.


Six Falcons were included in the ranking, which ties Atlanta with Pittsburgh as the teams with the second-most players. Dallas, New England and Seattle led the way with seven players apiece.

Here is where each of the Falcons players ranked:

No. 89: Desmond Trufant, CB

Trufant is the lowest-ranked Falcons' player, which is likely due to the fact that he missed the second half of the season in 2016 with an injury. When on the field, Trufant is one of the NFL's most versatile cornerbacks. He is tremendous in zone coverage and a sure tackler, two important qualities in Dan Quinn's defense.

ESPN's explanation: *"Trufant has proved to be a shutdown corner. Quarterbacks often throw away from his side, which is part of the reason he has only seven interceptions in 57 career games."  *


No. 66: Devonta Freeman, RB

Freeman is the fifth-highest-rated running back on this list. After back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, in which he established himself as one of the best backs in the NFL, Freeman agreed to a new five-year extension with the team. In 2016, Freeman gained 1,541 total yards and 13 touchdowns.

ESPN's explanation:"Freeman has accumulated 3,175 yards from scrimmage and 27 touchdowns over the past two seasons. … Freeman has tremendous vision as a runner and the unique ability to play like another receiver out of the backfield."


No. 46: Vic Beasley Jr., LB

The NFL's reigning sack leader, Beasley went from four sacks as a rookie to 15.5 sacks in 2016. One of the quickest pass-rushers in the league, Beasley has expanded his repertoire of moves to become even harder to block.

ESPN's explanation:"A freakish athlete, Beasley utilizes his speed off the edge to his advantage and is into a more polished pass-rusher."


No. 31: Alex Mack, C

After signing with the Falcons before the 2016 season, Mack became the anchor of the offensive line and one of the most important players in the league's best offense.

ESPN's explanation:*"Mack instantly improved Atlanta's line in his first season with the Falcons, directing traffic up front while helping to keep MVP Matt Ryan upright. Mack also showed the ability to get to the second level and push around defenders in the Falcons' zone-blocking scheme." *


No. 23: Matt Ryan, QB

The NFL MVP last season, Ryan is now working new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. In 2016, Ryan showed what he is capable of when given time to make plays – he turned in a career year, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 4,944 yards with 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

ESPN's explanation:"The reigning MVP enters 2017 with a chance to reach 4,000 passing yards for the seventh consecutive season. He has thrown for 200-plus yards in an NFL-record 55 straight games (and counting)."


No. 6: Julio Jones, WR

Jones is one of the top players in the league. A physical specimen, Jones is the rare 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver who is capable of taking the top off of a defense or stopping on a dime while running a shorter route. Over the past three seasons, Jones has averaged 1,624 yards and seven touchdowns.

ESPN's explanation:"Jones was voted the league's best wide receiver by his peers in a poll conducted by the NFL Network. He's virtually unstoppable with his blazing speed, freakish athleticism, strong hands and the ability to go up and get the ball in traffic."

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