With another Atlanta Falcons training camp currently underway, it’s time to do another update to my projection for the team’s 53-man roster when the regular season kicks off for the team on September 10.
If you missed my earlier projection this summer from eight weeks ago, you can go check that out to see the differences.
For each of the past three summers, I’ve been able to accurately project at least 44 of the 53 players that wind up making the roster for the opening game. In 2014, it was 45. In 2015, it was 44. Last season, it was 46. That’s a combined 85 percent “hit rate” over the past three years, so take that for what it’s worth.
So let’s see if I can actually exceed that 85 percent bench mark this year. Let’s go position-by-position, breaking down each.
Players eligible for the practice squad are denoted with an asterisk (*). In the case of tight end Alex Gray, he’s noted with double asterisks (**) because he is automatically got a spot as the “11th man” on the practice squad due to the league’s International Player Pathway program.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup: Matt Schaub
Practice Squad: Alek Torgersen*
Cuts: Matt Simms
Even if there was an actual competition here (there’s not), Ryan and Schaub’s contracts make both prohibitive to get rid of. The only real question entering camp is whether Simms or Torgersen play well enough to merit the team keeping either as a third quarterback or practice-squad member. Simms seemingly ran out of practice-squad eligibility last season, so that should give Torgersen another opportunity to stick.
Starters: Devonta Freeman, Derrick Coleman
Backups: Tevin Coleman*, Brian Hill*, Terron Ward*
Cuts: Tyler Renew*, B.J. Daniels*
At running back, I suspect the Falcons to keep four just because this coaching staff seems to have a strong affinity for Ward. Given recent reports that fifth-rounder Hill is potentially on the bubble, it potentially means that Ward still has a shot at winning the third spot behind Freeman and Coleman.
Previously in June I had Soma Vainuku at fullback over Coleman, mostly just to have something relatively unique in my projection. But Vainuku was cut already, making it seemingly Coleman’s gig to lose.
Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu
Backups: Taylor Gabriel, Justin Hardy*, Andre Roberts
Practice Squad: Devin Fuller*, Nick Williams*
Cuts: Anthony Dable*, Deante Burton*, Josh Magee*, Reggie Davis*, Marvin Hall*
The Falcons have kept six wide receivers the past two years, but that sixth guy (Devin Hester, Eric Weems) has primarily been the return specialist. I think the addition of Roberts should mitigate the need to keep that extra player as he can somewhat fill the roles of both Weems and Aldrick Robinson in one.
If anybody is going to land as the sixth receiver, it’ll likely be Williams or Fuller. I have both making the practice squad.
Starter: Austin Hooper*
Backups: Levine Toilolo, Eric Saubert*, Josh Perkins*
Practice Squad: Alex Gray**
Cuts: D.J. Tialavea*, Darion Griswold*
Relative to a lot of positions, the competition here could be fairly fierce because I’m not sure there is a lot of difference between guys like Toilolo and Tialavea as well as Saubert and Perkins. Unfortunately the Falcons have a glut of young developmental players at this spot, so some decent players might get the boot.
Starters: Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Wes Schweitzer*, Ryan Schraeder
Backups: Ben Garland, Sean Harlow*, Daniel Brunskill*
Practice Squad: Travis Averill*, Andreas Knappe*
Cuts: Kevin Graf*, Wil Freeman*, Marquis Lucas*, Cornelius Edison*
Schweitzer and Garland are expected to compete for the starting right guard position. Schweitzer has the slight edge at this point, but it’s a battle that is a potential toss up. For the time being, picking the second-year player in Schweitzer to win the battle seems the safer bet.
Offensive tackle seems to be a perfect spot where the Falcons might scour the waiver wire to pick up a more proven option than any of their undrafted rookies to provide depth behind Matthews and Schraeder. Brunskill is a little light in the pants, but in terms of athletic upside, is the most intriguing among the group. Knappe has the size you look for, but he’s a bit raw and probably needs a year of seasoning on the practice squad.
Starters: Vic Beasley*, Grady Jarrett*, Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn
Backups: Takk McKinley*, Brooks Reed, Jack Crawford, Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Ra’Shede Hageman
Practice Squad: Chris Odom*, Joe Vellano*
Cuts: Martin Ifedi*, Tani Tupou*
Trying to determine who is technically a “starter” for the Falcons is difficult given the team’s tendency to have a separate foursome for nickel versus base downs. In the end, I just picked the four guys that I suspect will get the most playing time early on this season. As has been the case the past two years under head coach Dan Quinn, the exact starting lineup and rotation will unfold over the course of the season as it’s unlikely the group that begins the year will end it in the same roles.
As far as competition goes, there isn’t a ton of guys pushing for roster spots. It’s more about vying for playing time and what exactly will be the roles certain players will be deployed in. Besides Jarrett, Poe and Clayborn, which player is going to see a lot of reps inside at defensive tackle? Who will play at left defensive end in the base defense? Crawford, Shelby, Upshaw, or Hageman? It should be much less about making the team as it is establishing a pecking order among the reserves.
Because the Falcons lack “true” defensive tackles on their bench, I think Vellano will get another chance on the team’s practice squad. Because the team is always on the lookout for developmental speed off the edge, Odom should get a shot too.
Starters: De’Vondre Campbell*, Deion Jones*, Duke Riley*
Backups: LaRoy Reynolds, Kemal Ishmael, Jack Lynn*
Practice Squad: J.T. Jones*
Cuts: Josh Keyes*, Jermaine Grace*
I waffled on who to put as the sixth linebacker. I ultimately went with Lynn at middle linebacker, where I think depth is a little bit more of a potential issue than at outside linebacker. Having a guy like Keyes or Grace makes for an overabundance of weak-side linebackers given that Campbell, Riley and Ishmael all can play there.
That very same issue is why I have Jones making the practice squad. While both Beasley, Reed and even Reynolds could fill in at SAM linebacker in a pinch, having another body at least on the practice squad makes a lot of sense.
Starters: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Backups: Brian Poole*, Jalen Collins*, C.J. Goodwin*, Deji Olatoye
Practice Squad: Akeem King*
Cuts: Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jarnor Jones*
Shouldn’t be too many surprises here, with six cornerbacks making it. All of the backups contributed greatly down the stretch for the Falcons, so it’s hard to imagine the Falcons parting ways with any of them this summer assuming they continue to make strides.
King remains eligible for the practice squad and should hang around a bit longer.
Starters: Ricardo Allen*, Keanu Neal*
Backups: Damontae Kazee*, Sharrod Neasman*
Practice Squad: Taylor Reynolds*
Cuts: Marcelis Branch*, Jordan Moore*, Deron Washington*, Quincy Mauger*
No real surprises here, with Kazee serving as Allen’s backup and Neasman as Neal’s. I have Reynolds making the practice squad. Like Kazee and possibly Poole, Reynolds might pull double duty both as a nickel cornerback and free safety this summer, possibly doubling his chances of sticking.
Starters: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Cuts: Mike Meyer*
Again, no surprises here. Based off my projection for the roster, I suspect Andre Roberts will be the team’s primary punt returner. If he doesn’t pull double duty on kickoff returns as well, expect Tevin Coleman or Taylor Gabriel to earn the gig there.
So there you have it, my projection of the Falcons 53-man roster heading into this summer’s training camp. We’ll see how accurate this is five weeks from now when the final cuts are made.