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.
Camp Battles at Cornerback
Aaron breaks down the battles and storylines at cornerback entering Falcons training camp. He discusses the impact of Justin Bethel, Isaiah Oliver’s potential to start fast as a rookie and settles the Robert Alford vs. Desmond Trufant debate once and for all.
Bengals Season Preview With James Rapien
Aaron is joined by Locked on Bengals host James Rapien to look at the Bengals 2018 outlook. They discuss the surprising return of head coach Marvin Lewis, whether the Bengals offense is too focused on A.J. Green, their offensive line troubles and whether the William Jackson vs. Julio Jones matchup will be a must-see battle.
James is on Twitter: @JamesRapien.
Camp Battles at Linebacker
Aaron breaks down the storylines and battles at linebacker entering training camp. He discusses expectations for the Falcons young linebackers to take their games to the next level.