5 young Falcons to evaluate down the stretch

After most practices, Falcons coach Dan Quinn spends time working with players on individual drills that are designed to help them improve.

The Falcons, who are set to face the Carolina Panthers at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome, hope to reap the benefits from developing some of their young talent.

“I do have lots of respect for players and how much they put into the game, and as a staff we’re a developmental staff, so we’re going to try and take every single guy as absolutely far as we can,” Quinn said. “I always know I feel good at the end of the day knowing that that’s the end goal in finding all of the unique stuff out about a guy.”

The coaching staff must start making some evaluations of the young talent to see who’ll move forward with the team and who’ll need a replacement.

Here are five young players in need of solid game-time evaluations of over the final two games of the season:

DT Grady Jarrett. The rookie defensive tackle from Clemson started and played 29 of 65 snaps (45 percent) against the Panthers on Dec. 13. He was very active and finished with six tackles.

“It was good,” said Jarrett, who was a fifth-round draft pick. “I did what I did. Nothing new. Nothing different.”

Jarrett was one of the few bright spots in that game.

He played 29 of 62 snaps Sunday against Jacksonville before leaving with a shoulder injury. He had another strong game and was the 18th-highest-graded defensive tackle in Week 15, by profootballfocus.com. The Jacksonville game was his fifth consecutive positively graded game.

DT Joey Mbu. The undrafted rookie from Houston was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster Dec. 11.

He played 24 of 65 (37 percent) of the defensive snaps against Carolina and had one tackle for loss. He was inactive against Jacksonville.

“It was great to get him started,” Quinn said. “It was his first play-time, getting going. I think he had about 20 to 25 plays. He had one of them behind the line, so I thought for the first outing for him, it was great to get his feet wet and get his first NFL experience under his belt.”

WR Justin Hardy. The fourth-round pick this year from East Carolina came up with two big catches on third downs late in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville.

He spent the first seven games on the inactive list. He has caught at least one pass in seven consecutive games. Hardy has 15 catches for 145 yards. In addition to his key grabs against Jacksonville, he made a nice catch on a crossing route against Carolina.

The Falcons need to know if the all-time FBS receptions leader can be a playmaker in the NFL.

CB Jalen Collins. It's been a bumpy rookie season for the second-round pick.

But you can see his athletic skills. If he can make it through these rough patches and turn into strong cornerback, the secondary could be improved moving forward.

Quinn likes his length and size.

OLB Tyler Starr. He was as raw as a green banana coming out of South Dakota. On his first day at rookie minicamp, the former staff took great care to change his three-point stance.

He’s one of the players who Quinn regularly works with after practice.

A seventh-round draft choice in 2014, Starr has had two seasons to develop. He was promoted the 53-man roster Dec. 18.

Starr, who’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, is being groomed for the strongside linebacker position. He also has some potential in coverage.

He played 16 snaps on special teams against Jacksonville, but did not play from scrimmage.