While you have to like the notion that the depth chart seems very fluid at this point in the year under new head coach Mike Smith, at a certain point it becomes a little less fluid. In an ideal world you could say all 53 roster spots are completely open for competition each summer, but in the real world we know that is never the case. Even a staff as open to competition as Smith & Co. are, all 53 jobs aren’t truly open. There are certain players that we know at this point will definitely make the roster. The only thing that could stop them from being on that final 53 is if they are injured in camp and go on injured reserve. Here, I’m going to (perhaps prematurely) pick some of those players that I think aren’t on the bubble.
Chris Redman and Matt Ryan are definite keepers. One of those two will almost certainly be the opening day starter, with the other being No. 2 on the depth chart. The real battle is at the No. 3 position where Harrington and Shockley will fight it out. I know most Falcon fans want Shockley, but Harrington has the edge due to experience.
Turner, Norwood, and Mughelli really are the only locks here. You expect that Snelling, Brown, and McIntyre have the inside tracks at what probably will be two more roster spots, but none of those guys are locks to make it. McIntyre has the best chances due to his special teams ability, but remember he was a captain under Petrino. That doesn’t automatically carry over when a new coach takes over. I’d suspect McIntyre will be retained, and the loser of the Snelling vs. Brown battle will go on the practice squad.
Four people won’t be cut: Roddy White, Laurent Robinson, Harry Douglas, and yes Michael Jenkins. If you thought Jenkins was on the bubble you thought wrong. The players on the bubble are Horn, Finneran, and Jennings. It’s doubtful Horn will be cut because his $2.5 million base salary is guaranteed, but because of his desire to be dumped, it might eventually happen at the end of camp, particularly if the foursome listed above prove that the team doesn’t need him.
The Falcons will keep three, and two of them are Hartsock and Milner. Hartsock is a free agent signing, and Milner’s draft status a year ago will buy him at least one year of smooth sailing under this coaching staff. The rest of the gig is up for grabs. Zinger has the inside track as a draft pick, but he, Rader, and Cooper can potentially fill the same niche so it’s doubtful the team will choose more than one.
This position is actually the hardest to predict because competition will be so high here. Right now, I’d say that Blalock, Baker, McClure are definite keepers. I’d also want to throw Weiner, Clabo, and Forney into that group, but not as confident. Weiner is injured, so there’s actually a chance he could be cut between now and September if he doesn’t get 100% (although the current prediction is he will be by August). Clabo’s play last year should merit him staying, but again, he’ll have to prove himself all over again. Forney certainly was on the bubble during the off-season, but since he’s presumably made it to camp, it’s doubtful the team would cut him now. That probably leaves three or four roster positions open for the other eleven blockers on the roster. I would only guess that Ojinnaka has an inside track to one of those positions due to his potential versatility. Besides that, your guess is as good as mine.
Abraham, Davis, Babineaux, and Anderson will be retained. I should add Lewis to that group as well, but due to his injury and the potential he may start the season on IR or PUP list, I’m reluctant to add him since if he does so, he won’t count towards the final 53. I would say Moorehead is a strong candidate to land another spot. The Falcons will likely keep 8 or 9 lineman at the start of the season, so there will be major competition at some 4-5 spots.
Boley, Lofton, Brooking, and Nicholas are protected. The truth is the Falcons only have 8 linebackers on the roster right now, and likely will keep 6 or 7. Meaning they may only cut 1 player currently on the roster. James and Taylor will likely lock up at least the 2 remaning spots.
At the cornerback position, the team will not cut Houston, Hutchins, or Jackson. And if all the mini-camp buzz about Brent Grimes proves true, he can be added to that list as well. At safety, Milloy, DeCoud, and Coleman are also safe. This leaves David Irons, Wilrey Fontenot, Daren Stone, and Jimmy Williams not sure of their NFL futures. Since the team is likely to keep at least ten defensive backs, it could mean at least two of those players will be released. Irons and Stone at least have their special teams ability to fall back on, which doesn’t bode well for Williams.
The team won’t cut Elam, Koenen, or Schneck. At least all three are extreme longshots. Lovell will have to hope his play this summer is good enough to merit a practice squad position so that perhaps the team will use him to replace Elam in 2009 or 2010.
By my math if you couldn’t keep up, I’ve named 35 players (including Trey Lewis) above that I’m sure will be on the Falcons roster come September. Which leaves 18 positions available. I don’t know how that compares to other NFL teams, but it’s probably a lot higher than most.
The 2006 New Orleans Saints take the cake as far as roster turnover. Sean Payton really revamped that roster, so that 29 of the 53 players on their opening day roster that year were newcomers. By my count, 11 of the 35 “locks” will be newcomers, as well as upwards to 16 of the remaining open roster spots could be newbies as well. Meaning that we may have 27 or so new players on this year’s roster. Given the likelihood that I’ve poorly assessed a few players’ chances, we could see a “Payton-esque” revamp this summer.