Falcons Add Eight to Practice Squad

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY SportsMatt Simms
Andrew Innerarity-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Gillislee

The Atlanta Falcons announced eight additions to their practice squad yesterday with the signings of linebacker Derek Akunne, offensive tackle Pierce Burton, tight end Marcel Jensen, cornerback Akeem King, defensive end Stansly Maponga, defensive tackle Joey Mbu, quarterback Matt Simms and linebacker Tyler Starr.

Previous reports indicated that the Falcons also added running back Mike Gillislee to their practice squad, but the team has yet to confirm it. If Gillislee is indeed added to the practice squad, it leaves just one more available spot to the 10-man unit.

Akunne, Burton, King, Maponga, Mbu and Starr were all players with the Falcons in training camp this summer and were cut by the team this past weekend. Jensen and Simms are new additions to the team after having spent the summer with the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, respectively.

Akunne was an undrafted rookie out of North Texas that was a productive and active weak-side linebacker for the Falcons this summer. He finished third on the team with 16 tackles.

Burton was picked up by the Falcons at the start of training camp after spending time in the Canadian Football League this past spring and the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. He had a good camp, rising up the depth chart to become the team’s backup right tackle by the end of the summer.

King was drafted by the Falcons in the seventh round of the 2015 draft as a raw safety prospect that was converting to cornerback. He had a quiet camp, but the team still likes his developmental upside.

Maponga was drafted by the Falcons in 2013 and was productive this summer tying for the team-lead with two sacks. Maponga played sparingly the past two summers with the Falcons, but offers potential as a pass-rusher.

Mbu was an undrafted rookie out of Houston and adds beef to the Falcons defensive line at nose tackle where the Falcons don’t have a viable option behind starter Paul Soliai.

Starr was a seventh-round pick of the team in 2014 and made the team a year ago, but failed to play in a game last season. He’ll add much-needed depth at strong-side linebacker where he could be elevated to the roster as an emergency option due to the extended absence of injured starter Brooks Reed.

Jensen was an undrafted rookie out of Fresno State in 2014 with the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent time on their practice squad during that season. He was cut by the Jaguars this past May and scooped up by the Broncos. With the Falcons unexpectedly dumping veteran Tony Moeaki this past weekend, Jensen becomes the team’s de facto third tight end behind Jacob Tamme and Levine Toilolo.

Simms was in the four-man competition for a roster spot in Buffalo this summer. He is the son of former NFL quarterback Phil Simms and the brother of Chris, who was a teammate and close friend of Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during their days at the University of Texas. Simms entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the New York Jets in 2012, but was cut his rookie summer before being re-signed by the team in 2013. He managed to appear in three games with the Jets in 2013, completing 16 of 31 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

He was cut by the Jets in 2014 before landing on their practice squad. He rejoined former Jets head coach Rex Ryan when he was hired by the Bills this year, but eventually lost a roster spot this summer while being given limited opportunities. Simms will essentially function as the Falcons’ third quarterback while on the practice squad.

Gillislee was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round of the 2013 draft out of Florida, where he was the starting running back while Falcons head coach Dan Quinn served as the team’s defensive coordinator. He appeared in three games as a rookie but sat out out the entire 2014 season with a hamstring injury after being placed on the injured reserve by the Dolphins.

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Aaron Freeman
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