Now that we’re a month removed from 2018 NFL Draft, it’s time to take a look at the Atlanta Falcons roster and see who is likely to make the team’s 53-man roster a few months from now.
I believe the Falcons roster is mostly set as the team has a large number of incumbents, free agent signees and draft picks that are very strong bets to make the roster. I think that really only leaves a handful of roster spots available that will involve significant competition later this summer during training camp.
Quarterbacks (2): Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
While the Falcons guaranteed a small portion of undrafted rookie Kurt Benkert’s base salary, strongly indicating that the team is leaning towards keeping a third quarterback on the roster this year, I don’t think Benkert makes it in the end. I think he’ll show enough to merit a practice-squad spot, but I expect the Falcons will keep Benkert stashed there for a year with the intent of him competing for and/or inheriting Schaub’s No. 2 role in 2019.
Running Backs (4): Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith, Ricky Ortiz (fullback)
This position includes few surprises beyond the fullback position, where I think recently signed Ricky Ortiz is the front-runner to win what will be a hotly contested spot this summer. The Falcons have Ortiz along with a wealth of undrafted rookies competing for the vacant fullback spot, which is the only starting position that is truly up for grabs.
Wide Receivers (6): Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage, Marvin Hall
The bulk of the competition at this position will come at the back-end of the depth chart as the top four receivers: Jones, Sanu, Ridley and Hardy are locks. Russell Gage should have no issue sticking due to his special-teams prowess and Hall’s explosiveness and special-teams ability give him a leg up over the rest of the competition for the sixth and final spot.
Tight Ends (3): Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
All three players here are basically locked into their roster spots barring injury. The real competition here will be whether Saubert shows enough growth in his second year to surpass Paulsen as the No. 2 tight end behind Hooper. Saubert made some strides as a blocker over the course of his rookie season in 2017, but he’ll need to show continued growth this summer to move further up the depth chart.
Offensive Linemen (10): Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder, Ben Garland, Austin Pasztor, Wes Schweitzer, Sean Harlow, Daniel Brunskill
The starting five is pretty much set with Fusco replacing incumbent Schweitzer at right guard. Now fully healthy, Pasztor should have as good a chance as any to unseat Ty Sambrailo as the swing tackle, with the athletic Brunskill sneaking onto the roster as a fourth tackle given his developmental upside. The interior guys are pretty much locked in, but it’s going to be interesting to see if Harlow sees reps at center in the hopes he can push Garland this summer.
Defensive Linemen (9): Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, Deadrin Senat, Terrell McClain, Garrison Smith
The first eight names in this position group are locks to make the roster, barring injury. Most players are locked into their roles although there are still questions revolving around how exactly the defensive tackle rotation will go this year. There should be fierce competition for the ninth and possibly final spot on the depth chart. Given their question marks along the interior, having an extra body like Smith makes the most sense.
Linebackers (6): Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, Foye Oluokun, Anthony Winbush
The Falcons have an opening for the sixth and likely final linebacker spot, and a player like Winbush, should he get reps on the strong side makes a lot of sense. But the biggest question at this position will be whether or not Riley shows enough growth in his second year to secure a regular role on defense.
Cornerbacks (6): Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Isaiah Oliver, Justin Bethel, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
The additions of Bethel and Oliver give the Falcons a lot more depth at cornerback. Bethel will primarily be deployed on special teams and the Falcons will likely alternate between Poole and Oliver as their third cornerback on a weekly basis depending upon the matchup. Wreh-Wilson should stick since he’s steady as a depth guy that can contribute on special teams.
Safeties (4): Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee, Tyson Graham
The only real competition here is for which player earns the backup spot behind Neal at strong safety. I think Graham is the guy that ultimately comes out victorious. Kazee could also show the second-year growth where the Falcons will be more eager to use three-safety looks in 2018.
Special Teams (3): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
There should be no surprises here.
Practice Squad (11):
QB Kurt Benkert
RB Malik Williams
WR Dontez Byrd
TE Troy Mangen
TE Alex Gray
OL J.C. Hassenauer
OL Matt Gono
DE Mackendy Cheridor
DT Jon Cunningham
LB Richard Jarvis
S Secdrick Cooper
Benkert sticks on the practice squad. Williams should have a leg up for a fourth running back position thanks to his blocking abilities. Byrd is a potentially dynamic option that can figure into the mix as a return specialist. Mangen’s blocking should give him a long look. Gray earns an automatic spot due to the NFL’s international player program. Hassenhauer and Gono will be developmental options along the offensive line. Cheridor’s size and Cunningham’s burst will have the team intrigued by their potential along the defensive line. Jarvis has the athletic upside to play both outside linebacker spots. Cooper’s versatility to play both free and strong safety should help him land a spot on the practice squad.
Final 53-Man Roster Projection
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Importance of O-Line Stability
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.
Rapid Reaction to Preseason Week 3 Loss to Jaguars
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.