Third-year CB Brent Grimes stepped up this season, making five interceptions.
Biggest surprise:Brent Grimes. In his first three seasons, Grimes was constantly criticized for being too short and giving up too many big plays. This season, he turned the tables. Grimes became a full-time starter at cornerback. He used his athleticism to make up for a lack of size. With other teams staying away from Dunta Robinson and challenging Grimes repeatedly, he produced five interceptions in a season that may have made him into a starter for the long term.
Biggest disappointment:Peria Jerry. The first-round draft pick from 2009 injured his knee early in his rookie season. He made it back for the start of the regular season this year, but didn’t have much of an impact. Jerry was serviceable in a defensive line that rotated heavily. But the Falcons ended up starting rookie Corey Peters ahead of him. There still is hope within the organization that Jerry can be a force and that he might get back to full health next season. But there also was hope that there would be some signs of progress as this season went on. That never really happened.
Biggest need: A franchise left tackle. The Falcons drafted Sam Baker in 2008, right after they drafted quarterback Matt Ryan. The thinking was that Baker could protect Ryan’s blind side for years to come. But Baker never has developed into the player the Falcons thought he could be. With center Todd McClure aging and guard Harvey Dahl and tackle Tyson Clabo possibly heading into free agency, the offensive line could be getting an overhaul. It might be wise to include an upgrade at the most important position on the line.
Team MVP: Ryan. It’s hard to overlook running back Michael Turner and receiver Roddy White, each of whom had a huge season. But Ryan took the next step in his maturation process, showing he could win big games and displaying a knack for leading comebacks. Ryan threw a career-low nine interceptions and threw for a career-best 28 touchdowns and 3,705 yards. Ryan led the Falcons on a four-game streak in which they didn’t commit a turnover.
Best decision of the year: Trusting John Abraham to bounce back. After recording only 5.5 sacks in 2009, it would have been easy to say age had finally caught up to Abraham. But coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff watched film of Abraham’s season and decided he hadn’t lost anything. They decided he just needed more help from the pass coverage. That’s why they went out and got Robinson. The improved coverage might have played a big role as Abraham bounced back and produced 13 sacks.