When we last looked at which Atlanta Falcons’ players stocks went up and down two weeks ago, several players were able to buoy their early success in training camp into solid performances during the preseason.
Now it’s time to revisit which players have raised their stock after the second week of preseason action, which saw the Falcons take on the New York Jets in a 30-22 loss.
LB Allen Bradford
The journeyman linebacker was the first addition that the team made under new head coach Dan Quinn back in February, which should have been very telling. The new coaching staff liked what they saw from Bradford throughout his various stints with the Seattle Seahawks over the previous years, and felt that it would be beneficial in Atlanta.
Thus far, Bradford’s play in the preseason has backed up that assessment. While there have been a few lapses from the 26-year old linebacker, he’s played a fast and physical brand of football that Quinn preached upon his arrival in Atlanta.
Bradford has not only made a number of plays on defense but also on special teams, an area that he needed to shine in to make the roster. This past week against the Jets, Bradford leapfrogged Nate Stupar as the team’s top backup at middle linebacker behind Paul Worrilow. Based off his play thus far, it seems highly doubtful that he’ll relinquish his spot on the depth chart once the regular season begins.
DT Adrian Clayborn
Expectations were somewhat mixed when the Falcons signed Clayborn as their most expensive free-agent addition at the defensive end position. Given the Falcons’ past with free-agent signings at that position, one can understand a certain level of trepidation among the fan base.
However, Clayborn has yet to see a single snap of playing time at end through two preseason games, instead spending all of his time playing defensive tackle in the team’s nickel sub-packages. In that role Clayborn has excelled as he made short work of Jets starting left guard James Carpenter on multiple plays this past week.
If this trend keeps up, Clayborn may be limited to being a situational player in Atlanta this season. But thus far this summer he’s shown that even on a limited snap count, he can still be a highly impactful player.
DE Stansly Maponga
Clayborn isn’t the only pass-rusher that has stepped up this summer as Maponga too has shown himself to be effective pressuring quarterbacks during the past two preseason games. He’s the only Falcons player to record a sack in both games. While Maponga’s production has mostly come against lower-level offensive tackles, his flashing the ability to dominate the lesser competition does indicate that he’s playing at level above his competition, which is always a positive sign.
Maponga has spent all of his time this summer playing behind rookie phenom Vic Beasley at the LEO position. Given the depth of the Falcons defensive line rotation with Beasley and veteran Kroy Biermann ahead of him on the depth chart, there was always the expectation that Maponga could be on the outside looking in terms of his roster chances.
But his prowess as a speed-rusher off the edge through the first two preseason games certainly has given the Falcons coaches something to think about when cuts are eventually made in little more than a week. Given the dearth of pass rush that has beleaguered the Falcons in recent seasons, it would be tough for the team to let go of a player of Maponga’s caliber based off his preseason performances.
Yet even if his future doesn’t rest in Atlanta, Maponga has certainly put enough solid tape out there this summer that he’s guaranteed to land on his feet with one of the other 31 teams this fall. In fact, his strong performances potentially open the possibility that the Falcons could get some back for him via trade should they have other plans in constructing their roster.
QB Sean Renfree
While Renfree’s play was less than inspiring against the Jets, his performance against the Titans in limited action was more than enough to carry over into this week as a player that sees his stock on the rise.
Of the two backup quarterbacks on the roster, Renfree has looked the coolest, calmest and most collected on the field. One simply wouldn’t be able to tell that this offseason marks his first exposure to the West Coast-based offensive system being installed by new coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
Renfree has thrown with accuracy, timing and touch on the overwhelming majority of his throws. He’s missed a few, but none have been due to making poor decisions. Ultimately that latter trait may be the most important one that he’s shown thus far this summer. Whomever suits up as Matt Ryan’s backup this season will basically be asked to manage the game should he find himself under center for any particular reason. Renfree certainly appears the most poised to accomplish said task among those currently on the Falcons’ roster.
If he continues to see increased reps with the second-team offense in the final two preseason games, Renfree should have more than enough opportunities to solidify that opinion.
WR Nick Williams
After Bradford, the second new addition the team made this past February was picking up wide receiver Nick Williams. Like the aforementioned linebacker, the diminutive speedster with experience playing under Shanahan in Washington has merited the coaches’ confidence in him.
Williams’ seven receptions in two games tie for the team lead alongside Justin Hardy. But more importantly, Williams has also contributed on special teams. He’s gotten the majority of opportunities to return both kickoffs and punts. There isn’t any chance that Williams is on the verge of unseating Devin Hester as the team’s primary return specialist, but his solid performance there at least presents the possibility that he might be the best backup behind Hester.
The problem Williams faces is the fact that the Falcons’ depth at wide receiver seems fairly set with five players that are virtual locks to make the team: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Leonard Hankerson, Hester and Hardy. However what is in doubt is whether or not the team opts to keep a sixth wideout. In all likelihood that player will be special-teams maven Eric Weems, but Williams’ performance through the first two preseason games has at least raised some doubt over whether Weems’ roster status is as secure as it appeared at the beginning of the summer.
G Jon Asamoah
Asamoah’s on-field play during the Falcons’ first two preseason contests has not been lacking in any significant way. Yet despite this, he’s no longer considered to be in the mix to land a starting position if recent comments from Quinn are to be believed.
When the Falcons opted to demote Asamoah on the second day of training camp, it was initially seen as the team tinkering with different alignments. But in the weeks since, Asamoah has received minimal snaps with the starters, leading more credence to the notion that his demotion was performance-based.
While not necessarily a sign that Asamoah’s performance has been bad, it’s likely that the Falcons feel they could do better with Chris Chester and James Stone starting at guard. If Chester is locked into the right guard spot and Asamoah isn’t even considered to be a part of the left guard competition, this of course raises the question of what the Falcons will do with their most promising free-agent addition from a year ago.
The obvious answer would be to trade him.
OT Tyler Polumbus
Asamoah isn’t the only veteran blocker that has seen his roster status overturned this summer. While Polumbus never entered the summer with the expectations that he would maintain a starting role, he was seen as a player that was very likely to land an important roster spot as the team’s swing tackle. Especially in light of the foot injury that has sidelined Lamar Holmes throughout the summer, Polumbus seemed a relatively safe bet to make the team by default given his past starting experience.
Yet through two preseason games, Polumbus has struggled mightily when it has come to holding up in pass protection. One could certainly argue his inability to protect the edge has been a major contributor to the poor performances of the team’s backup quarterbacks. Far too many pass-rushers have been able to negatively affect throws by Renfree and T.J. Yates through two games.
Polumbus still has two more games to justify why the Falcons signed him in May to be a potential fill-in should starters Jake Matthews or Ryan Schraeder miss time. But without major improvement as a pass protector, the Falcons may not have a choice but to explore other options at the position. They already have this summer and may be forced to revisit them before it’s over.
CB Dezmen Southward
There was certainly a time where the fact that Southward being a third-round pick a year ago would have certainly guaranteed him a roster spot. But it appears that time has passed.
His conversion from safety to cornerback has been rocky through two preseason games. According to Pro Football Focus, Southward has given up a team-high five receptions for 85 yards and also allowed one of the two passing touchdowns the Falcons have given up this preseason.
While no one can fault Southward for having some struggles given that outside a week of Senior Bowl practices before he was drafted, he’s never played cornerback before Quinn’s arrival in Atlanta. Unfortunately for the second-year defensive back, other corners have managed to outshine him, which could limit how much patience the team can show him. Essentially keeping Southward on the roster might be costing the Falcons the opportunity to keep another young cornerback with just as much if not significantly more upside worth developing.
Even if he struggled at corner, the fact that Southward was a competent special-teams player during his rookie season should have been his saving grace this summer. However he has seen relatively few snaps on special teams during the preseason, giving other young defensive backs more opportunities to impress the coaching staff, which they probably have.
Regardless, Southward will need to take advantage of the remaining two preseason games to salvage his roster spot. If he does not, then he still might make the team in the end. But should that occur, it’ll be clear that it was his draft status that saved him, not his on-field performances.
WR Roddy White
For the third consecutive summer, White will exit the preseason on a whimper. As it has been in all the previous cases, it will be due to an injury.
At least if judging from the previous two seasons, an injury-marred summer has led to an injury-marred fall. In 2013, it was a high-ankle sprain that forced White to sit out the entire preseason and subsequently not looking like his old self until the 13th week of the regular season.
A year ago, it was a draining of the knee that severely limited White’s ability to separate from coverage for the first two-plus months of the regular season.
This summer, it’s a minor elbow procedure that will keep White from performing in any of the team’s final three preseason games. While the injury isn’t expected to limit him from being ready for the regular season opener, recent history clearly indicates that it’s still a somewhat ominous sign.
The greatest receiver in Falcons history will turn 34 in roughly 10 weeks, and it’s clear that his body’s ability to recover from injuries has diminished. The previous regime too often opted to try and ask White to “gut through” his ailments given their reliance on his skills to make the offense less one-dimensional.
Hopefully the Falcons’ new coaching staff will learn from the previous ones’ mistakes and let White’s body heal at whatever pace it needs to before he’s re-inserted back into the lineup. And if so, hopefully that same staff has plans to compensate if White’s absence is prolonged.
QB T.J. Yates
As it did last year, the battle between Yates and Renfree is likely to go down to the final snap of the final preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens this summer. Unfortunately for Yates, his chances of edging out the third-year upstart for the second summer in a row appear a lot lower.
However Yates’ saving grace may rest on the fact that in the event of a tie, he’ll likely get the edge given his experience. As noted earlier, the Falcons’ backup quarterback will certainly be asked to manage the game should they get any regular-season action this fall. Unlike Renfree, Yates at least has started regular-season games during his career and even dabbled in the postseason.
But based off his recent preseason performances, Yates has yet to prove that he remains capable at managing the game. He’s made too many poor choices and throws this summer as his ball placement and poise in the pocket have been too often scattershot.
The emerging reality may be that just because Yates was effectively able to manage games as a starting quarterback in 2011 doesn’t necessarily mean he’s still able to do so in 2015. Unless Yates can reassert that former confidence in his abilities, his time in Atlanta may have run out.