One of the players from last season to emerge from obscurity not only helped solidify the Falcons' secondary, but also helped change the face of Atlanta's secondary for seasons to come.
Entering 2012, the Falcons had a trio of cornerbacks they were excited about in Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson. As the season progressed and injuries mounted, Robert McClain, a player with limited NFL experience, emerged and played extremely well. He played so well that Atlanta felt comfortable letting Grimes and Robinson go in the offseason and drafting Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford to round out the secondary.
McClain has positioned himself to begin 2013 as the Falcons' slot cornerback and the year he had last season hasn't gone completely unnoticed outside of Atlanta. The football statistic website Pro Football Focus named McClain Atlanta's "Secret Superstar" for the coming season, a yearly column that covers a little-known player on each team that plays like everyone should know who he is.
Pro Football Focus covers McClain's journey to the Falcons, including no playing time in 2011 and a stint with the Panthers in 2010. McClain's presence will allow the Falcons to put Trufant and Samuel on the outside and he'll be inside doing what he showed in 2012 that he can do.
"It's a reality of what he can do and where he can succeed – defending the shiftier players you see in the slot," PFF's Khaled Elsayed wrote. "In the modern NFL your team needs a guy who can do that, and while the Panthers didn't realize what they had, it's pretty clear that Mike Smith & Co. do."
According to PFF, McClain allowed 64.8 percent completions on 71 targets, but allowed just 9.2 yards per catch and no touchdowns. His 0.91 yards per snap in coverage from the slot corner was the ninth-lowest of all defensive backs in the NFL last season. Additionally he gave up a first down pass on only 4.75 percent of snaps in coverage, 11th-best of all corners.