Player to watch: Jacquizz Rodgers

March, 27, 2012
3/27/12
5:33
PM ET
PALM BEACH, Fla. -- I got to spend some quality time with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith at the owners meetings and I’ve got a bunch of different nuggets I’ll share with you over the coming days.

I’m not going in any particular order, but I’m going to start off with Jacquizz Rodgers. Most of you know I rarely make predictions and I’m not going to break tradition, especially when we’re only in March. But if you asked me which way I’m leaning right now as far as a breakout player or most-improved player for the division in 2012, I’d say Rodgers.

Part of it is based on what I saw out of Rodgers in a limited role last season. But I’m not a scout or a coach. My conversation with Smith about Rodgers is why I’m buying into this one. I could sense genuine excitement in Smith’s voice as he talked about the running back the Falcons drafted in the fifth round last season.

There’s another factor at work here. That’s Atlanta feature back Michael Turner. Smith already has said several times this offseason the Falcons want to limit Turner’s carries going forward. Smith said that again to me and I asked him how the Falcons will make up for those carries. He’s not going to hand me the playbook or his game plan, but I think his answer was fairly telling.

“Jacquizz figures into that quite a bit,’’ Smith said. “We drafted him to be a change-of-pace back and we found out very quickly that he’s a guy that is more than a change-of-pace back. Even though he’s short, he’s not little. He’s a guy we feel like we can integrate more into our offense.’’

I have little doubt that’s going to happen. Rodgers only carried 57 times for 205 yards last season and caught 21 passes for 188 yards. But -- rare fantasy football advice here -- those numbers are going to jump.

The Falcons found out Rodgers can run the ball better than they expected. They’ll run him more next season. They thought he could catch passes out of the backfield and he proved that. He’ll get even more chances.

Heck, with new coordinator Dirk Koetter and Rodgers, the Falcons might no longer be the NFL team that utilizes the screen pass the least.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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