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Question of the Week: Which player returning from injury are you most intrigued by? 

Several Falcons players from Grady Jarrett to Troy Andersen and more return from injuries. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Non-contact offseason practices may not be a defensive player's dream, but they provide an avenue for those rehabbing injuries.

The Falcons held another offseason open practice Tuesday, lending a closer glimpse at some players returning to the field like Troy Andersen who hasn't seen game action since last September, and Avery Williams, who spent the entire season on injured reserve.

Which begs this Question of the Week installment: Which player returning from injury are you most intrigued by? The Falcons editorial staff of Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan answer.


McELHANEY: We have not seen the best of Troy Andersen yet. We've seen glimpses and flashes. Because of the nature of his rookie playing time and injuries early in his second season, there's so much untapped potential with Andersen. I love potential, and he has it. So, yes, I am intrigued by his return to 100 percent.

Here's the thing, though: While all of what I just wrote rings true in my mind, I am just as intrigued -- if not more so -- by the domino effect of Andersen's return. As Terrin Waack wrote Tuesday, the return of Andersen presents the Falcons with (as Raheem Morris said) "an awesome problem" to have.

The Falcons are not without capable starters and depth at the inside linebacker position. Following Andersen's season-ending pectoral injury early last season, there was a question about said depth. The Falcons had Kaden Elliss, yes, but beyond him? Who would step up? At the time, there was only one option: Nate Landman, the undrafted free agent out of Colorado. What Landman would go on to do as a starter alongside Elliss should not be overlooked or undervalued, even with Andersen (a former second-round pick) returning to the active lineup. Hints the ("awesome") problem. But is it really a problem at all? I'm leaning towards no.

All four inside linebackers (and yes, now I am including recent draft pick JD Bertrand) have different skill sets. They have different play styles. They have different weaknesses, too. I said this in my practice notes and observations from Tuesday's open practice and here I am saying it again: It's only a matter of time before we see an inside linebacker trio instead of a duo on the field together.

"It's going to be exciting getting them on the field. Maybe all at the same time. Because they have that type of ability that warrants more playtime," Morris said. "And the only way you get more playtime? You get creative. You get innovative."

That's music to my ears.

Atlanta Falcons running back Avery Williams #26 during minicamp at Atlanta Falcons Headquarters in Flowery Branch, Georgia, on Tuesday, April 23, 2024. (Photo by Shanna Lockwood/Atlanta Falcons)

WAACK: I'm definitely intrigued by Avery Williams, mainly because I have not seen him perform since personally coming to Atlanta. He was ruled out for the 2023 season in June. I arrived in August.

Well, now he's back. Williams has recovered from his surgery for the ACL injury. Let's see what the hype is about.

Williams had been the Falcons' primary punt return man on special teams since he was drafted in 2021. As a rookie, he returned 20 punts for 153 yards. That cranks out to an average of 7.7 yards per return.

Then, in 2022, Williams returned 18 punts for 292 yards. His average jumped to 16.2 yards per return.

Williams' talent is not just notable in Atlanta but in the NFL. He led the league in 2022 for average yards per punt return. His average was three yards more than the next punter's average. I'm curious whether Williams can pick up where he left off in that regard.

Without Williams, the Falcons averaged 7.2 yards per punt return in 2023. Much lower than either of his season averages.

I'm not done yet, either. Throw in the new kickoff rule for 2024, and Williams gets a second wave of intrigue. Because he also has a rather successful history doing that.

Williams returned 39 kickoffs for 803 yards, good for a 20.6 average, between 2021-22. The Falcons averaged 16.9 yards per kickoff in 2023 with five returners.

If Williams gets put back there for kickoffs, too, who knows what he can do.

Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett #97 prior to the Week 8 Game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee on Sunday, October 29, 2023. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Atlanta Falcons)

SUBHAN: Grady Jarrett has yet to return to the practice field, but the defensive tackle's return feels imminent.

Jarrett spoke briefly at the conclusion of the 2023 season after he cleaned out his locker. It was the first time I'd seen him since his injury a couple of months and change, and you could feel his excitement building about getting back to the field. After all, this was the first time he had been kept off the field that much time in his almost decade-long career.

To understand Jarrett's mindset on returning, take it simply from Raheem Morris.

"With Grady, it's really funny," Morris said last week ahead of open practice, "it's really not even a conversation, it's almost a look in his eye."

It's likely that same look in his eye I saw in January.

Without Jarrett in the lineup, the Falcons defense trudged ahead with a productive season. Safety Jessie Bates III filled some of the leadership gap that Jarrett's absence created, but Jarrett's presence was still missing.

Now, he'll return with a lot of excitement around the team with a new coaching regime, a veteran quarterback and some returning defensive weapons supplemented by the recent NFL Draft. Jarrett will enter Year 10 with his hometown team in 2024. Though, only two of those years included playoff appearances. This comeback season could be special for multiple reasons.

"Just listening to him talk about his passion for Atlanta. ... It's just a reflection of what we left and what we miss about Grady and guys like that," Morris said. "I just know what he wants to do for this city."

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