Camp Battles 2011: Undrafted Edition

With the Falcons picking up 24 undrafted free agents, including yesterday’s addition of Georgia Tech wide receiver Kevin Cone, it is time to revisit what these two dozen players are bringing to the table in terms of this summer’s camp battles.

The undrafted rookies get somewhat a reprieve, since labor rules prevent veteran free agents from practicing until tomorrow. That means that these players all had the opening weekend to showcase their skills before some veterans were able to come in and outshine them.

Here is a position by position look at where these undrafted players fit in on the Falcons roster outlook:

Quarterback – As said before, Froman is a fourth arm that might have a shot at a practice squad position, but he’s not in a legitimate position to push for a roster spot unless there is an injury to either Chris Redman or John Parker Wilson. He’s more of a long-term developmental project for the Falcons.

Running Back – If the Falcons fail to bring back Jason Snelling, it certainly should increase the changes that Philip Sylvester can make the roster. But he’ll have to beat out both Gartrell Johnson and Antone Smith for that third running back spot. And his only way to do that will either to shine on special teams or show a short learning curve when it comes to pass protections. Snelling’s departure also increases the chances that either Thor Merrow or Lucas Cox can crack the roster as the backups to Ovie Mughelli at fullback. The team will be looking both at blocking ability and special teams production.

Wide Receiver – The departure of Michael Jenkins leaves a sixth wide receiver spot fairly wide open. The Falcons brought in speed, and guys like Cone, P.J. Gore, D.J. Davis, and Doug Beaumont provide that. Gore probably faces the best odds, but as usual it will come down to who can perform on special teams.

Tight End – Winterswyk has a chance to crack the lineup because of his raw potential and size as a blocker. It’s doubtful that the Falcons will keep four tight ends, so it’s more likely he’ll be looking at a practice squad spot in the end.

Offensive Line – Even with Harvey Dahl’s departure, the Falcons four guys are going to be hard-pressed to make the teams’ nine-man roster rotation. But the two centers (Ryan McMahon and Paul Fenaroli) might face the best odds of landing a practice squad spot since they is expected to be Todd McClure’s last season, and the team may be looking for a long-term backup option behind Hawley.

Defensive Line – With the addition of Ray Edwards, Tom McCarthy is a long shot. His best chance is to shine on special teams, and potentially as a long snapper. It would be an upset if Kiante Tripp was able to unseat one of the young tackles like Vance Walker of his roster spot. But with a good summer, he too is a practice squad candidate.

Linebacker – Relative to most positions, linebackers traditionally have a better chance of beating the odds and making a roster purely as special teams guys. That bodes better for Youri Yenga and LaMarcus Thompson, but this position, with the retention of both Stephen Nicholas and Mike Peterson, is arguably the deepest position on the entire Falcons roster. They’ll be long shots.

Defensive Back – Considering how young (and thin) the Falcons depth is in the secondary, this may be the best odds for one of the undrafted guys to surprise and make the 53-man roster. Tuimaunei may have the best odds since at this current juncture, he only has to beat out Rafael Bush to be the team’s fourth safety. Darrin Walls, Kamaal McIlwain, and Kirk Belgrave also face fairly good odds since Rafael Priest is their lone obstacle to the fifth cornerback spot.

Special Teams – Harfman is at best a dark horse to land the punter spot, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility since the leading candidate is a fellow rookie (Bosher). That basically means the gap between him and the starting position is probably the slimmest roster-wide. Zelenka is probably safe at his long snapper position because of how consistently good he’s been since joining the team. But the team is definitely on the lookout for an heir apparent, so someone like Andrew Schulze (or McCarthy) has a better than decent chance of causing an upset.

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Aaron Freeman
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