It’s always fun to take a shot in the dark about which players can/will make the Atlanta Falcons’ roster before the start of training camp.
Last summer my pre-camp roster projection wound up being far more accurate than I expected, especially compared to the previous year. In 2014, I was able to correctly pick 45 out of 53 players that wound up on the Falcons roster for opening day, a hit rate of roughly 85 percent.
My expectations with a new coaching staff under Dan Quinn were considerably lower given expectations that there would be significantly more roster turnover by summer’s end and having to adjust to changed proclivities of how a new coaching staff would build their 53-man roster. I expected that I would wind up getting around 40 players correct for a hit rate around 75 percent.
Instead I finished just one off the previous year, accurately projecting 44 of the 53 players that began the season on the Falcons roster. I even managed to get four out of the 10 practice-squad players correct as well.
Two of the nine misses (Jon Asamoah and Collin Mooney) began the season on injured reserve another trio (Antone Smith, Tony Moeaki and Joe Hawley) also had significant albeit not season-ending injuries to contend with to start the year, contributing to why they did not stick.
Obviously the goal this year is to improve on the accuracy of my roster projection, which I’m confident I will be able to do.
Also if you’re curious to what changes I’ve made since last doing this at the start of May after the 2016 NFL Draft, you can click here.
So here goes my prediction position-by-position for which 53 players will begin the 2016 season on the Falcons roster. I also made note of which players are eligible for the practice squad with an asterisk (*). As we get later into camp I’ll dive deeper into the intricacies of how the practice squad is constructed.
It should be noted that the Falcons have 87 players currently on their roster, which means probably within minutes or hours of posting this article, they will sign three veterans to bring that number up to the maximum of 90 and force me to have to make adjustments.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backups: Matt Schaub, Sean Renfree
Cut: Matt Simms*
I waffled a bit on the Falcons keeping Renfree as their third quarterback largely because every time I begin to write off Renfree as the inevitable loser of a camp battle, he always manages to win the competition. So for that reason, I’m have him making the team as the third quarterback.
Starters: Devonta Freeman*, Patrick DiMarco
Backups: Tevin Coleman*, Terron Ward*
Practice Squad: Gus Johnson*
Cuts: Will Ratelle*, Brandon Wilds*
Count me among the people rooting for Johnson to make the roster. He impressed me with what I saw of him with the Dallas Cowboys, but I think the Falcons are very comfortable with keeping just four running backs on the roster.
Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu
Backups: Justin Hardy*, Aldrick Robinson, Nick Williams*, Devin Fuller*
Practice Squad: Jordan Leslie*
Cuts: Eric Weems, Daje Johnson*, J.D. McKissic*, David Glidden*
It was also very tough on me personally to list Weems among the potential cuts because he is among my favorite players on the roster but the writing is on the wall. I don’t think this team is going to be in a position where they are devoting roughly $1.15 million in cap space to purely special-teams players like Weems. Hardy is an emerging player on special teams coverage and Williams is competent enough that I believe the Falcons will see Weems as much more expendable by summer’s end.
I chose Leslie for a spot on the practice squad because I think the Falcons will be looking for more size on their bench, which will be sorely lacking based on the players I have making the team. Whether it’s Leslie or someone else they pick up off the street, they’ll need to find someone else besides Jones and Sanu that is 6’1″ or taller to develop at this position.
Starter: Jacob Tamme
Backups: Austin Hooper*, Levine Toilolo
Practice Squad: D.J. Tialavea*
Cuts: Joshua Perkins*
I don’t believe there are any real surprises here, except perhaps having Tamme remain as the starter. I think there’s a good chance that Hooper will be starting by year’s end, but probably not Week One.
Starters: Jake Matthews*, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Chris Chester, Ryan Schraeder
Backups: Bryce Harris, Wes Schweitzer*, Mike Person, Tom Compton
Practice Squad: Jake Reed*
Cuts: Laurence Gibson*, Ben Garland, Michael Huey*, Shahbaz Ahmed*, Collin Rahrig*
I’m not really buying into the notion that Chester is in danger of losing his hold on the starting spot. I think there might be a better shot that Levitre gets axed. But in the end, I don’t see either veteran guard leaving the team and I believe the Falcons will try to build upon the continuity they established last year along with Mack at the pivot.
Starters: Vic Beasley*, Jonathan Babineaux, Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn
Backups: Ra’Shede Hageman*, Grady Jarrett*, Tyson Jackson, Brooks Reed, Courtney Upshaw, Joey Mbu*
Practice Squad: Brandon Williams*
Cuts: Nordly Capi*, Cory Johnson*, Chris Mayes*, Malliciah Goodman
Even though it’s a move that makes no sense in my eyes, I can already see the Falcons keeping Tyson Jackson since their depth at defensive tackle is going to be awfully thin if Hageman is playing defensive end. The Falcons might scour the waiver wire at the end of August looking for another defensive tackle, but for the time being I won’t predict that.
I nearly listed Upshaw among the cuts but thanks to the suspension of cornerback Jalen Collins, it freed up a roster spot to keep Upshaw around at least through the first month of the season.
As far as I’m concerned, I don’t see a ton of logic behind keeping Beasley, Reed and Upshaw, considering all three essentially fill similar roles within the defense. Barring Upshaw looking much stronger in training camp at defensive end or on special teams than I’m expecting, I think between him and Reed, one of them should go. And considering that Reed’s base salary is already fully guaranteed for the year, I can give you two guesses as to which is more vulnerable.
But what often makes sense to me is not what makes sense to the people that run the Falcons.
I also believe this summer marks the end of Goodman’s tenure as a Falcon. The writing seemed to be on the wall last year when he was inactive for 14 weeks of the regular season.
Starters: Philip Wheeler, Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon
Backups: Deion Jones*, De’Vondre Campbell*, LaRoy Reynolds
Practice Squad: Ivan McLennan*
Cuts: Torrey Green*, Tyler Starr*
I think this summer will mark the end of the one remaining holdover from the Falcons infamous four-linebacker draft crop from 2014 as I believe Starr will be cut for good. I think McLennan will surpass him to earn a spot on the practice squad. It’s not that I don’t think Starr is good enough to make the team, but he’s always a player that is barely hanging on and I think without him taking a big step this summer, it might be time to cut him loose.
I also have the three veterans starting at the beginning of the year, although I believe there is a fairly good chance that we might reach October before either Jones or Campbell are regulars in the starting lineup. Reynolds sticks because of his special-teams prowess.
Starters: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Backups: Akeem King*, C.J. Goodwin*, Unknown Veteran
Suspended: Jalen Collins* (will not count against Week One’s 53-man roster)
Practice Squad: Jordan Sefon*
Cuts: DeMarcus Van Dyke, Devonte Johnson*, David Mims*
I’m cheating somewhat because I believe the Falcons will add another corner off the waiver wire before the start of the regular season to handle the nickel cornerback duties. Current free agent and ex-Falcons Phillip Adams is as good an option as any, but since he’s not currently on the roster, I can’t really predict him to make it can I? But I believe the Falcons will sign someone that will make King and Goodwin the fourth and fifth corners on the depth chart, respectively, to begin the season.
As for Sefon making the practice squad, that was an instance of tossing all three undrafted rookies’ names into a hat and picking one. Although to be fair, Sefon’s ball skills and length also played a factor in choosing him over the others.
Starters: Ricardo Allen*, Keanu Neal*
Backups: Robenson Therezie*, Kemal Ishmael
Practice Squad: Sharrod Neasman*
Cuts: Charles Godfrey, Brian Poole*, Damian Parms*
I’m not sure this one requires a ton of explanation.
Starters: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Cuts: Nick Rose*
I believe that Bryant will not lose his job to Rose this summer. I also believe as you could have probably guessed from the wide receiver group above that Fuller will open the season as the team’s primary kickoff returner.
You’ll probably notice that I only included eight players on my practice squad rather than the maximum number of 10. That’s because I don’t expect all 10 spots to be filled by players that the Falcons bring to camp, as there is always a handful of spots used on players that were cut by other teams at the end of the summer. Last year, four of the Falcons’ 10 initial practice-squad players were with other teams during training camp: Matt Simms, Marcel Jensen, Jahwan Edwards and Ben Garland. So at least by my reckoning, projecting eight is more than enough with the last two spots being anybody’s guess.
And I would be remiss to not mention how much injuries play a factor into how the roster shapes up, but here’s hoping they have a minimal effect on how the Falcons roster is constructed this year.