It’s hard to predict the final 53, certainly at this point because injuries are always a factor. Guys get hurt in camp, and thus open up opportunities for others. The team also does a nice job scouring the waiver wire at the end of August for other teams’ cuts to add to the roster. And what areas they target depends heavily on which units did not bring the sort of competition envisioned. For example, if Ovie Mughelli is limited early in camp due to his recovering from his knee injury, it could open the door for either Mike Cox or Bradie Ewing to win the starting job. And if that is the case, it’s highly unlikely the team will keep Mughelli as a resreve. And if Ewing is the one that emerges as the starter, then it might prompt the team to keep one fullback on the roster, have Snelling serve as his primary backup, and thus keep a fourth tailback like Frey, Nance, or Smith.
First let’s go through the players that are locked in, meaning they are near certainties to make the roster unless injuries occur:
Quarterback (2): Matt Ryan, Chris Redman
Running Back (4): Michael Turner, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Bradie Ewing
Wide Receiver (3): Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas
Tight End (2): Tony Gonzalez, Michael Palmer
Offensive Line (5): Justin Blalock, Tyson Clabo, Todd McClure, Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes
Defensive End (3): Ray Edwards, John Abraham, Kroy Biermann
Defensive Tackle (2): Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters
Linebacker (4): Stephen Nicholas, Lofa Tatupu, Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent
Cornerback (4): Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, Asante Samuel, Dominique Franks
Safety (2): William Moore, Thomas DeCoud
Specialist (2): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher
That’s a grand total of 33 players that are locks to make the roster. That leaves 20 roster spots open. It’s likely that the following players will have the best chances to fill those:
Running Back (1): Ovie Mughelli
Wide Receiver (1): Kerry Meier
Offensive Line (2): Joe Hawley, Andrew Jackson
Defensive End (2): Lawrence Sidbury, Jonathan Massaquoi
Defensive Tackle (1): Vance Walker
Linebacker (1): Spencer Adkins
Cornerback (1): Darrin Walls
Safety (2): Shann Schillinger, Charles Mitchell
That’s 11 players that are strong probabilities that they will find their way on the final roster, leaving a total of 9 spots remaining.
These are the positions that will almost certainly be included in the final 53 players, but which player will fill them remains to be seen:
#5 WR, #3 TE, #8 & #9 OL, #4 DT, #6 LB, #1 LS
Subtract those 7 niches from the final 9, and you basically are left with only 2 spots on the roster that could be considered “extra” meaning that a player could have a strong enough summer that he merits being kept on the roster despite not really having a role for him. And more than likely, they will be spots reserved for players that can contribute on special teams as well as their potential to contribute on offense or defense.
Those 7 position battles mentioned above will be the most contentious this summer.
Fifth Wide Receiver: This was a role vacated by Eric Weems, and as was the case with Weems, it will be strongly impacted by a guy’s ability to impact in the return game. This is also the position most likely where one of the Falcons undrafted free agents can rise to the top and stake out a spot on the final roster.
Third Tight End: This likely will be a position where blocking is the premium since if/when this player gets playing time it will come in situations where the team employs 3-TEs on the field, typically running scenarios. It’s certainly possible that the Falcons use a third tackle for that role (Lamar Holmes?), but just for the sake of depth the Falcons will likely carry a third tight end just so they don’t have to abandon 2-TE sets in the event of an injury to Gonzalez or Palmer.
Eighth/Ninth Offensive Lineman: It’s possible the team could carry ten guys here (thus filling the “extra” spot) just due to the sheer amount of young depth the team is trying to develop. Both of these spots could very well be filled by starters at left tackle (Sam Baker vs. Will Svitek) or right guard (Vince Manuwai).
Fourth Defensive Tackle: Peria Jerry and Travian Robertson are the front runners here, and certainly at least one of them will make it. Jerry is the likelier of the two, with Robertson more likely going to the practice squad. But the Falcons could opt to keep five here, thus filling another one of the “extra” spots.
Sixth Linebacker: The Falcons will likely carry a sixth linebacker for special teams and depth purposes. Robert James would be the front runner, but he’ll be pushed by the undrafted guys. Any of them could unseat him with a strong summer.
Long Snapper: Joe Zelenka would be a hard man to beat out under normal circumstances, but the fact that the Falcons are carrying three snappers into camp would indicate that they are looking for a spirited competition and one of the young guys to push Zelenka away.
If you want a much too early May prediction on who the final 53 will be, here goes:
Quarterbacks (2): Matt Ryan, Chris Redman
Running Backs (5): Michael Turner, Ovie Mughelli, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Bradie Ewing
Wide Receivers (5): Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, Kerry Meier, Cody Pearcy
Tight Ends (3): Tony Gonzalez, Michael Palmer, Adam Nissley
Offensive Linemen (10): Will Svitek, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Vince Manuwai, Tyson Clabo, Andrew Jackson, Joe Hawley, Peter Konz, Lamar Holmes, Mike Johnson
Defensive Ends (5): Ray Edwards, John Abraham, Kroy Biermann, Lawrence Sidbury, Jonathan Massaquoi
Defensive Tackles (5): Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Vance Walker, Peria Jerry, Travian Robertson
Linebackers (6): Stephen Nicholas, Lofa Tatupu, Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, Spencer Adkins, Robert James
Cornerbacks (5): Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, Dominique Franks, Darrin Walls
Safeties (4): William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Charles Mitchell, Shann Schillinger
Specialists (3): Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Joe Zelenka