A year ago, I questioned whether drafting Dent was a good move by the Falcons. That question could be quickly answered with Dent poised to make significantly more contributions in 2012 due to the void of two departed players.
Those two players include middle linebacker Curtis Lofton and special teams ace Eric Weems. Last year, almost all of Dent’s contributions came on special teams, but this year he’ll be asked to make greater contributions on defense.
I was not surprised to find that Dent excelled on special teams last year. According to Football Outsiders, he tied for the league-lead with return stops last year. Their definition of a stop is similar to what is credited via Moneyball as a tackle on special teams. Dent paced the Falcons last year with 5.5 tackles on kickoff returns of less than 20 yards, and also was also tied for third on the team with 2.5 tackles on punt returns which held opponents to returns of 5 or less yards. And almost all of Dent’s production on special teams came in the second half of the season when the Falcons were able to coax more production out of kickoff specialist and punter Matt Bosher. It also indicates Dent’s improvement over the course of the season.
Where Dent is much more untested is on defense. The team signed veteran Lofa Tatupu at the outset of the off-season to give them veteran insuranc. He and Dent are expected to compete for the starting middle linebacker spot vacated by Lofton. The team will likely choose Tatupu because of his experience, leadership, and also the simple fact that the less work Dent gets on defense means the more work he can get on special teams where he is clearly valuable. But Dent is not going to make it easy for him.