Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is over, it’s time to make an all-too-early projection over who will wind up being on the Atlanta Falcons’ 53-man roster when the regular season starts.
I’m not sure this summer there is a lot of drama about who will make the roster. Entering the fifth season under head coach Dan Quinn, I believe the Falcons have established a pretty reliable core of players.
There will only be a handful of final roster spots up for grabs. There will be a fight for some key starting spots on the offensive line along with several key depth roles being up for grabs.
As usual, I’ll likely drop another one of these before training camp begins in late July. There are probably at least a couple more additions the Falcons might make before then that will cause some revisions to this prediction. A veteran player to help out along the defensive line and/or several rookies added after May’s rookie minicamp (scheduled for May 10 through 12) could change the math on this prediction.
I’ve denoted rookies with asterisks (*).
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup: Matt Schaub
Practice Squad: Kurt Benkert
The Falcons currently only have three quarterbacks on the roster and it seems likely that they might add a fourth arm after rookie minicamp.
Regardless of who the team signs, I expect the current three to stick around. Benkert should get another year on the practice squad in the hope that he could take over for Schaub in 2020, who has an option in his contract.
Starter: Devonta Freeman
Backups: Ito Smith, Qadree Ollison*, Brian Hill, Marcus Green*
Practice Squad: Ricky Ortiz
Cut: Jeremy Langford, Kenjon Barner
The competition behind Freeman should be one of the more compelling roster battles to monitor this summer during training camp and the preseason. The Falcons will have to find interesting ways to divvy up the snaps and carries now that there is a glut of quality players in their running back room.
Ultimately, Ollison and Green’s status on the roster should be relatively safe given their ability to contribute on special teams.
Hill shined at the end of the 2018 season in spot action and I think it’ll be difficult for the Falcons to part ways with him just yet. The Falcons can afford to keep him on the roster at least for the first two weeks of the regular season since defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman is dealing with a suspension. But they might also opt to keep one of their defensive linemen instead.
I expect tight end Luke Stocker to be the main option at fullback yet the Falcons can still stash Ortiz on the practice squad.
Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu
Backups: Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage
Practice Squad: C.J. Worton*
Cut: Christian Blake, Devin Gray, Kahlil Lewis*, Olamide Zacchaeus*, Shawn Bane*
Not too many changes in the Falcons wide receiver room, with the players you expect to make the cut doing so.
The competition going into this summer is for guys fighting for a chance at a practice-squad role. Who emerges in that battle will be fun to watch.
Starter: Austin Hooper
Backups: Luke Stocker, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Practice Squad: Jaeden Graham
Cut: Alex Gray
The Falcons will feature a lot more multiple tight end sets under offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter than they did with his predecessor Steve Sarkisian. They’ll also likely utilize Stocker as a hybrid H-back/fullback as well as featuring him as an inline blocker across from Hooper.
Paulsen and Saubert will be battling it out to see who will be the third tight end off the bench, who will primarily be used in a blocking role. Paulsen has the edge due to his experience, but Saubert’s ability as a pass-catcher could create more opportunities in the offense. And thus if he can show more consistency as a blocker, there’s a strong chance he could snatch that role this summer.
I’ve penciled in Graham as a practice squad candidate, although he wasn’t overly impressive last summer. That could be a player that the team scoops up off the waiver wire at the end of the summer to be a developmental option.
Starters: Jake Matthews, Chris Lindstrom*, Alex Mack, Jamon Brown, Kaleb McGary*
Backups: James Carpenter, Wes Schweitzer, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono
Practice Squad: Chandler Miller*
Cut: Sean Harlow, Adam Gettis, John Wetzel, Devon Johnson*, Lanard Bonner*, Jaelin Robinson*
Top pick Chris Lindstrom should get an opportunity to start this year, but the question is whether or not it will be on the left or right side of the line. Much of that could depend on whether Carpenter or Brown emerges as the starter at the opposite spot. If Carpenter wins, then Lindstrom will likely be the team’s starting right guard. If it’s Brown, then Lindstrom might start on the left side.
It’s hard imagining keeping Brown on the bench with him counting $4.3 million against the salary cap this year, which is $1.5 million more Carpenter’s cap hit.
But it’s not impossible and these roster battles will be ultimately settled on the field between who is the best player. Carpenter has the experience, while Brown has a bit more upside. Ultimately, I think the Falcons will favor a five-man front that gives them a bit more oomph in the run game, which should give the edge to Brown.
That is also the reason why I think McGary will unseat incumbent Sambrailo at right tackle by the end of camp. Sambrailo is better suited to be the team’s swing tackle.
Schweitzer and Gono should be able to settle in as reserves.
As far as the practice squad goes, Miller gives the Falcons extra depth at the center position. His competent performance against Ed Oliver this past season suggests there’s some potential there.
Starters: Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Adrian Clayborn, Takk McKinley
Backups: John Cominsky*, Tyeler Davison, Deadrin Senat, Jack Crawford, Steven Means
Practice Squad: Chris Odom, Justin Zimmer
Suspended: Ra’Shede Hageman (2 games)
Cut: Mike Bennett, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Durrant Miles*
The competition for the back end of the team’s rotation will be one to watch this summer. Players like Means, Odom, Zimmer, Bennett and Hageman should be fighting for what may wind up being a few roster spots.
Hageman’s looming suspension means that he won’t be on the 53-man roster to start the year but I expect the Falcons will retain him once it’s over. That could afford someone like Odom, Zimmer or Bennett a much better chance of making the roster.
Starters: De’Vondre Campbell, Deion Jones, Foye Oluokun
Backups: Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, Bruce Carter
Practice Squad: Jermaine Grace, Yurik Bethune*
Cut: Tre’ Crawford*, Del’Shawn Phillips*
The battles for depth will be interesting as a player like Jermaine Grace could potentially challenge former third-round pick Duke Riley for his roster spot. However, I suspect he’ll wind up just being put on the practice squad for a second consecutive year.
Keep an eye on the undrafted players that will be fighting for spots on the practice squad. Bethune’s athleticism makes him an intriguing developmental option at strong-side linebacker.
Starters: Desmond Trufant, Isaiah Oliver
Backups: Damontae Kazee, Kendall Sheffield*, Jordan Miller*, Blidi Wreh-Wilson
Cut: Taveze Calhoun, Rashard Causey*, Jayson Stanley*
Players like Sheffield, Miller and Wreh-Wilson will be battling for the right to be the team’s fourth cornerback and top option off the bench. Currently, Sheffield’s upside and versatility make him the front-runner to win that job, but watching him hold off the likes of Miller should be fun this summer.
The Falcons could find another developmental guy to plug onto the practice squad. Stanley’s play on special teams might give him a leg up in that regard.
Starters: Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal
Backups: Sharrod Neasman, J.J. Wilcox
Practice Squad: Chris Cooper
Cut: Parker Baldwin*, Afolabi Laguda, Ryan Neal
Safety is another position where the competition for practice squad spots could be intense. Neasman and Wilcox seem relatively safer bets to make the roster, while the hard-hitting Cooper is my top pick to earn a spot on the practice squad.
Starters: Giorgio Tavecchio (kicker), Matt Bosher (punter), Josh Harris (snapper)
Cut: Kyle Vasey*
Vasey is just a camp body as a long snapper, and there shouldn’t be any question about who sticks here.
Expect Marcus Green to win the return battle.