Six Falcons players who could see expanded roles in 2021

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Deen Worley
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By the time the 2021 NFL season kicks off, the Falcons’ roster could look very different than it does today. Several veteran members of the team are likely to become cap casualties, forcing many of Atlanta’s younger players to step into bigger roles next season.

Here are six Falcons who could see their roles expand in 2021.

LB - Mykal Walker

Curtis Compton/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Little was expected from linebacker Mykal Walker last season. The fourth-round pick out of Fresno State was only featured on 36 percent of all defensive snaps in 2020 and played more than 30 snaps in just four games. Despite such a small role on defense, Walker was named to the Pro Football Focus All-Rookie Team alongside Isaiah Simmons, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2020 draft. Walker allowed only 74 passing yards on 152 coverage snaps.

RB - Ito Smith

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

For the first 11 weeks of the season, Falcons RB Ito Smith struggled to see more than 15 percent of the team's offensive snaps. However, Smith turned the corner after the bye week and played at least 32 percent of the snaps in all but one game after Week 11. His performance over the final few weeks of the season prompted interim head coach Raheem Morris to name Smith the starter over Todd Gurley. Smith will be the lone back retained from the 2020 trio and should be given a chance to thrive in a new offense led by head coach Arthur Smith.

TE - Jaeden Graham

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

While Graham is technically a free agent, his exclusive rights status could bring him back to Atlanta for a league minimum in 2021. This is something the Falcons should consider given the low number of players on the roster and the lack of cap space. Graham has been buried behind Luke Stocker on the depth chart, but the veteran's departure may finally provide Graham a chance to get some reasonable play time. Filling in for Austin Hooper in 2019, Graham hauled in five passes for 94 yards and one score over two games as starter.

WR - Julio Jones

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

To peg Julio as a guy who could see an expanded role in 2021 is a pretty wild idea to grasp. In recent years, the longtime consensus No. 1 receiver in the league has been hindered by the team's offensive game-planning and play-calling. When it comes to passing plays between the 20s, Julio has been heavily targeted. While I don't expect this part of his game to change much, Jones should see better red-zone production in 2021, an area of the field that has eluded him in years past.

DT - Marlon Davidson

(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Davidson was selected by the Falcons with their second-round pick and many believed the rookie was poised for a breakout season. However, after being held out due to COVID-19 precautions and suffering multiple injuries, the young lineman wasn't able to find a rhythm. A fresh start in 2021 could provide Davidson the chance to prove he is the kind of difference-making talent Atlanta had in mind when drafting him out of Auburn. He only played in eight games as a rookie and finished the year with eight total tackles. If healthy, Davidson could be a pivotal force in Dean Pees' defense.

Safety - Jaylinn Hawkins

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

The Falcons drafted Hawkins in the fourth round in 2020 and his role was limited to providing injury relief to Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Hawkins got the most playing time early in the year when Allen left a Week 3 contest against Chicago with a shoulder injury. Hawkins stayed in as safety the following week with both Allen and Neal unable to play again due to injury. With both Allen and Neal potentially on the way out in 2021, Hawkins could be forced into a starting role next season.