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Atlanta Falcons

Camp Battles on the Defensive Line

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Aaron breaks down the storylines and battles surrounding the Falcons interior defensive linemen entering training camp. He looks at Grady Jarrett’s potential to his game to the next level as well as what contributions the team will get from players like Jack Crawford, Terrell McClain and Deadrin Senat in 2018.

Aaron has covered the Atlanta Falcons since 2006 on his website Falcfans.com. He is the host of the Locked on Falcons podcast and co-host of Falcons Central Radio podcast at Pro Football Central.com. He’s also contributed in the past for draft website, The Huddle Report, and been a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. He currently resides in North Carolina, is an alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh and has a deep abiding passion for chicken wings.

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Atlanta Falcons

Final 53-Man Roster Projection

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Aug 10, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Kurt Benkert (6) looks to pass as New York Jets cornerback Xavier Coleman (38) defends during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

With one final preseason game to go for the Atlanta Falcons tomorrow, it’s time to make the last projection for which players will make the team’s 53-man roster heading into the first game of the regular season.

If you want to check out the projection I made on the eve of training camp roughly five weeks ago, click here.

There are still some unresolved roster battles that will likely play out in the Falcons matchup against the Miami Dolphins tomorrow night, but here’s my best guess for which guys will wind up taking those final spots.

An asterisk (*) indicates that tight end Alex Gray automatically qualifies as the 11th member of the Falcons practice squad due to the NFL’s International Player Program.

Quarterback

Keep (2): Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
Practice Squad: Kurt Benkert
Cut: Garrett Grayson

No changes from my pre-camp projection here. While Benkert has flashed potential and will likely be kept around to potentially compete to replace Schaub as Ryan’s primary backup in 2019, his play hasn’t been quite at the level to merit keeping on the 53-man roster.

Running Backs

Keep (4): Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Ricky Ortiz
Practice Squad: Justin Crawford
Cut: Terrence Magee, Malik Williams, Jalston Fowler

The on.y change over the last five weeks is swapping Crawford in for Williams as the team’s choice for the practice squad. Crawford’s steady work on special teams and being the first back off the bench once Coleman and Smith have exited makes him the obvious candidate to remain on the practice squad.

Fowler could make a late push to unseat Ortiz at fullback, but it might be too little, too late for him.

Wide Receivers

Keep (6): Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marvin Hall
Practice Squad: Reggie Davis
Cut: Dontez Byrd, Christian Blake, Julian Williams, Devin Gray, Lamar Jordan

Previously I had Byrd making it as the team’s practice-squad receiver, but I’ll swap him out for Davis, who still has an outside shot of making the roster if he can make waves in the return game tomorrow night. However, the fact that Davis has regularly gotten work on special teams, while few of the undrafted guys have so far this summer, makes me believe he’s a strong candidate to land on the practice squad. That is, assuming he clears waivers, which he did not a year ago when the Falcons cut him after camp.

Of the remaining guys that might have a shot at landing a practice squad spot, keep an eye on Byrd and Gray, the two players that have been the most consistent playmakers on offense throughout the preseason.

Tight Ends

Keep (3): Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Practice Squad: Troy Mangen, Alex Gray*
Cut: Jaeden Graham

No changes here. Unfortunately, the competition for the backup tight end position between Paulsen and Saubert never really came to fruition. Paulsen will be Hooper’s backup and used primarily as a blocker. Hopefully, as the season wears on, Saubert will garner more snaps and be more than an afterthought as the No. 3 tight end, like he was for much of his 2017 rookie season.

Offensive Line

Keep (10): Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder, Wes Schweitzer, Ben Garland, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, Sean Harlow
Practice Squad: Jamil Douglas
Cut: Austin Pasztor, Daniel Brunskill, J.C. Hassenauer, Salesi Uhatefe

The majority of the changes from my pre-camp projection occur among this group. Previously, nine blockers had been projected to make the team, but I had to add a tenth in Gono, given his solid and promising upside being on display each week this preseason. I also had to swap in Sambrailo for Pasztor as the team’s swing tackle, given that the former has been the more consistent of the pair and has steadily worked ahead of the other with the second-stringers.

Douglas, who has worked consistently with the second-unit line, should be able to land a practice squad spot for the second year in a row, given his versatility to play both center and guard. Hassenauer is another possible candidate to land a spot on the practice squad as well.

Defensive Line

Keep (9): Vic Beasley, Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Jack Crawford, Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Deadrin Senat, Garrison Smith
Practice Squad: Justin Zimmer, Anthony Winbush
Cut: J.T. Jones, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Mackendy Cheridor

More changes among this group, with Zimmer and Winbush earning practice squad spots. In my pre-camp projection, Winbush was listed among the linebackers as a practice squad player.

Zimmer’s steady pass-rushing ability likely prompts him to land a spot on the practice squad, while Garrison Smith likely sticks on the roster. But those players could easily flip-flop.

Linebackers

Keep (6): Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, Foye Oluokun, Jonathan Celestin
Practice Squad: Richard Jarvis
Cut: Emmanuel Ellerbee, Emmanuel Smith

Celestin, despite being a late addition during camp, managed to outplay the others thanks to sure tackling, solid instincts and pass-rushing capabilities.

There’s also a possibility that the Falcons put Celestin on the practice squad and add a veteran outside linebacker off the waiver wire, similar to what they did a year ago when they added Jordan Tripp.

As is, there is no clear-cut backup to Campbell at strong-side linebacker beyond Ishmael and Jarvis, and the Falcons may want to shore up their depth a little with someone that can also bolster special teams.

Cornerbacks

Keep (6): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Isaiah Oliver, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Justin Bethel
Practice Squad: Chris Lammons, Ryan Neal
Cut: Leon McFadden, Deante Burton

Poole won the battle for the nickel/third cornerback hands down over Oliver. The Falcons also saw steady play from Wreh-Wilson to make him safe despite entering the summer a bit on the bubble.

Lammons was listed as a safety but spent the entire summer playing slot cornerback. His ability to potentially play both spots makes him a good bet to land a practice squad spot. Neal is also a candidate to land a practice squad spot, given his time split playing both outside cornerback and strong safety this summer.

Safeties

Keep (4): Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Ron Parker
Practice Squad: None
Cut: Tyson Graham, Marcelis Branch, Secdrick Cooper

While there was never any question whether or not he was a roster lock, it’s worth noting how well Kazee played this summer just because.

Parker sticks as the fourth safety, which was never in any real doubt given how poorly the rest of the team’s reserve safeties played this summer. So much so that the Falcons were able to move outside cornerback Ryan Neal to the spot against Jacksonville, and he looked a lot more promising than the likes of Graham, Branch or Cooper.

Special Teams

Keep (3): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Practice Squad: None
Cut: Giorgio Tavecchio, David Marvin

No surprises here as Tavecchio and Marvin are essentially bodies to get the Falcons through the final preseason game rather than real contenders for roster spots.

That is the final 53-man projection for me. There were only a handful of changes from July on who I thought would make the roster, but several in terms of which players wind up with practice squad spots.

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Atlanta Falcons

The Importance of O-Line Stability

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Aug 17, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons offensive guard Brandon Fusco (65), offensive guard Wes Schweitzer (71), and offensive tackle Matt Gono (77) before their game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron breaks down some interesting stats looking offensive line stability and its correlation to past Falcons success. He first discusses the signing of K Giorgio Tavecchio, followed by looking back at how the Falcons featuring the same five starters along their O-line has correlated highly to past team success. He turns his attention to the importance of OL depth in 2018, discusses why it’s important to keep Sean Harlow, and reads iTunes reviews from listeners.

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Atlanta Falcons

Rapid Reaction to Preseason Week 3 Loss to Jaguars

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Aug 25, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson (97) during the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron reacts to the Falcons 17-6 loss to the Jaguars in the third “dress rehearsal” preseason game. He discusses the struggles of the starting offense, the lack of opportunities for Ito Smith, the importance of winning in the trenches, depth in the secondary and the lack of movement for roster battles on special teams.

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