Peria Jerry: Atlanta Falcons Player With the Most to Prove This Season

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As the Atlanta Falcons continue the dog days of training camp this summer, there are many players on the roster with something to prove heading into the 2013 season.

Matt Ryan wants to prove he's an elite quarterback, and that he's worth his new $103.75 million deal. Also, tight end Tony Gonzalez wants to prove he can replicate his success from a year ago in what will be his final season in 2013. New free-agent acquisition Steven Jackson wants to prove that he still has something left in the tank, and the same can be said for defensive end Osi Umenyiora.

In what may be the best training-camp story in all of the NFL, former high-school standout linebacker Brian Banks (who was exonerated last year after serving five years in prison following false rape accusations from a female classmate) wants to prove that he can play linebacker at the NFL level and make the team. After all he's been through, the fact that Banks has made it to an NFL training camp with a legitimate shot at winning a roster spot is nothing short of amazing. At this point he has won over the entire country, and as far as I'm concerned doesn't have to prove anything to anyone.

If you watch the Falcons on a regular basis, you could undoubtedly make a lengthy list with regards to players who need to prove themselves heading into this season.

However, no player on the Falcons' roster has more to prove in 2013 than defensive tackle Peria Jerry. Atlanta's first-round pick back in 2009 has yet to justify his 24th overall selection in that draft, and he is on the verge of becoming yet another draft-day bust.

Granted, Jerry's career got off to a horrific start when he suffered a season-ending knee injury just two games into his rookie campaign. Since then, however, Jerry has played in all but two games for the Falcons over the last three seasons.

Jerry's career numbers of 34 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks just aren't first-round caliber numbers. To put Jerry's numbers in perspective, fellow Falcons' defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux totaled 31 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season alone.

Further implicating Jerry is the fact that he started the majority of last season's games while Corey Peters started the season on the PUP list. In a new defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Jerry failed to seize the opportunity to cement himself in a starting role, as Peters was back in the starting lineup by Week 11.

The Falcons have presumably held on to Jerry because it would be more expensive to release him from his rookie deal than to let him play it out due to cap penalties. Though, heading into a contract year in 2013, Jerry may be on his last leg in Atlanta. This season may be his final chance to replicate the success he enjoyed while at Ole Miss when he totaled 10.5 sacks over his final two seasons, dominating SEC offensive linemen en-route to two-consecutive All-SEC selections.

Will Peria Jerry change the course of his career in 2013? Or will he join the likes of Jamaal Anderson, Ray Edwards, Peerless Price and Ed Hartwell as yet another Falcons disappointment?

Darryl L. Jones is an authority on Atlanta sports. He has lived in Atlanta his entire life, and has followed the Falcons his entire life. He is also the Atlanta Sports Examiner for Examiner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DarrylJonesATL.

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