2008 Rookie Review

Atlanta's 2008 draft class could easily be seen as a "cornerstone" draft that brought in players who will contribute significantly over the next decade. They picked up a franchise quarterback, a bookend left tackle as well as a middle linebacker, a starting safety and a nickel corner. Here's a look at how that class performed during its rookie season and what will be expected of them in 2009…

QB Matt Ryan (Rd. 1; 3rd overall) – The unanimous AP Offensive Rookie of the Year was stellar from the moment he stepped foot at Flowery Branch. His poise and leadership were rivaled only by his above-average arm and accuracy as a rookie and as he gets more comfortable in Atlanta's offense he will likely be headed to many Pro Browls and lead the Falcons on deep playoff runs. As a rookie in 2008, Ryan managed to post an 87.7 quarterback rating, while throwing for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Luckily for Ryan he won't be asked to win games on a regular basis like a lot of quarterbacks who are drafted early. The Falcons possess one of the top running backs in the NFL and they've worked hard to improve a defense that struggled at times in 2008.

LT Sam Baker (1; 21) – Baker was almost immediately plugged in at left tackle and while he had an up-and-down season, he managed to keep pass-rushers off of Ryan's back and showing a bit of a nasty side in the running game. He has the ideal size and athleticism to be a solid player for the Falcons for years to come and he's someone who will be counted on to hold down the all-important left tackle position for the foreseeable future.

LB Curtis Lofton (2; 37) – As a rookie, Lofton started from the get-go, finishing with 94 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble from his middle linebacker position. He has ideal size and outstanding instincts, but there have been some rumors he may move outside in 2009. His best position is inside and I believe that is where he will stay, maximizing his playmaking potential as well as utilizing his outsanding leadership qualities.

CB Chevis Jackson (3; 68) – Atlanta struck gold when Jackson was still available in the third round. He's a solid cover corner who returned an interception 95 yards for a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints and also hauled one in during Atlanta's playoff game against Arizona. He finished the season with 31 tackles and he's a physical presence in the secondary, able to handle slot receivers or wideouts with equal effectiveness. He should be able to press for a starting position with Dominique Foxworth's departure in free agency.

WR Harry Douglas (3; 84) – As a rookie, Douglas saw time as the Falcons' fourth wideout behind Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Brian Finneran. He hauled in 23 receptions for 320 yards and one touchdown and used his outstanding quickness to be a dangerous punt returner averaging 11.9 yards on 19 returns including a 61-yarder he took back for a touchdown against New Orleans. Douglas' size and lack of great top end speed will limit him to a situational role in Atlanta's offense, but because of his quickness and return abilities he should thrive in his dual-roles to be a solid contributor again in 2009.

S Thomas DeCoud (3; 98) – DeCoud played a reserve role with the Falcons in 2008, posting six tackles in spot duty. However, with the departure of Lawyer Milloy, DeCoud moves into the starting lineup as the strong safety on the Falcons defense. DeCoud isn't very big, but he's technically sound and still likes to lay the lumber on receivers that come into his area. Because he loves the big hit, sometimes he doesn't wrap up and that could cause a problem in the future so he needs to tighten that up, but he's a good athlete and will provide a little more of a coverage element than Milloy did last year.

LB Robert James (5; 138) – James spent the entire season on Atlanta's practice squad and was a valuable scout team player for the Falcons. He's a bit on the small side, but he has good speed and quickness and because of that he should end up contributing immensely on special teams and even as a nickel linebacker on passing downs. He's considered a backup at the weakside position heading into training camp.

LB/DE Kroy Biermann (5; 154) – With his size (6-3, 250), Biermann is going to be a perfect fit as a standup pass-rusher when the Falcons go to a 3-4 alignment this coming season. As a rookie, Biermann had 21 tackles and two sacks in a reserve role and with his athleticism and natural pass-rush abilities he'll fit in well with the new defensive scheme.

RB Thomas Brown (6; 172) – Brown's season was ended in the preseason when he suffered a torn groin in a game against the Baltimore Ravens. He was very impressive last August as a rookie and would have stood a good chance of making the final roster before the injury, so the expectation is he will be a player to watch during training camp as someone that can take some carries when Michael Turner and Jerious Norwood need a breather.

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