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2nd-Year Players Make Big Strides in 2016

Posted Feb 11, 2017

The Falcons' core of young, skilled players has given them a bright future, and the 2015 Rookie Club is a significant part of that group.

The 2015 NFL Draft was head coach Dan Quinn’s first chance to make a big mark on the Falcons. Two seasons later, it’s evident that three-day stretch was vital in building Atlanta’s talented, rock-solid foundation.

Here’s a look at how the 2015 Rookie Club fared in their second professional campaigns.

OLB Vic Beasley Jr.

After a somewhat quiet rookie season, Beasley exploded in 2016 for 15.5 sacks and six forced fumbles. Both of those numbers were league-highs, and according to Pro Football Reference, he is one of just 13 NFL players to record that many sacks and forced fumbles in a single season. As his coaches and teammates said throughout the year, Atlanta’s Pro Bowl outside linebacker broke out by taking his work ethic to a new level – on the practice field and in the film room. His presence helped the Falcons make significant improvements to their pass rush: In 2015, they finished last in the NFL in sacks (19), but in 2016, their 34 sacks ranked 16th overall.

CB Jalen Collins

After enduring a four-game suspension to begin his second year, Collins steadily improved throughout the season and received a starting job when Desmond Trufant suffered a season-ending injury. The second-rounder earned a positive grade on Pro Football Focus in seven of 10 games; on five occasions, quarterbacks earned passer ratings below 90 when targeting the 6-foot-1, 203-pounder. Collins made his biggest impact during the NFC Championship Game: In the first half, he ripped the ball out of FB Aaron Ripkowski’s arms and recovered it in the end zone – preserving and 10-0 lead and giving the offense a chance to march down the field and extend that advantage to 17 points.

RB Tevin Coleman

The immense potential Coleman displayed as a rookie has quickly turned into production. In the regular season, he scored 11 touchdowns – eight on the ground, three through the air – more than all but 12 players, and his five rushes of 20-plus yards ranked 15th. Not bad for someone who missed three games. Coleman remained dangerous in the playoffs, gaining 178 yards on 36 touches and three scores.

WR Justin Hardy

As a member of Atlanta’s deep wide receiving corps, Hardy developed into a reliable target with a penchant for moving the chains. He finished the regular season with 203 yards on 21 targets (a 9.7 average), 17 first downs and four TDs. He made two catches in the playoffs, both of which resulted in first downs.

DT Grady Jarrett

At this point, it’s safe to say Grady Jarrett is one of the best fifth-round picks in recent memory. The powerful defensive lineman established himself as a force at nose tackle, contributing in all situations and eating a lot of space up the middle. His breakout may have occurred during SBLI: On football’s biggest stage, he tied the Super Bowl record for sacks by dragging down Tom Brady three times behind the line of scrimmage.