Post-Draft Prediction of the Falcons 53-Man Roster in 2016

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY SportsDevin Hester

As it did a year ago, I’m going to make another attempt at projecting what the Atlanta Falcons’ opening-day 53-man roster might look like now that the 2016 NFL Draft is in the books and we have a good idea of what the Falcons 90-man roster going into training camp might look like.

Last year that initial post-draft projection managed to hit on 41 of the team’s Week One 53-man roster, or was about 77 percent accurate. That’s not bad considering it was about four months out. And it probably would have been even more accurate (over 80 percent) had I waited until after the team signed offensive linemen Tyler Polumbus and Chris Chester last May.

However I should note that that projection was way off in one key area, as starting free safety Ricardo Allen was not included. At that point last May, I envisioned Charles Godfrey starting for the Falcons at that position with Allen likely destined to spend another year on the practice squad. So clueless!!

Hopefully I’ve learned some lessons from last year, although it would not surprise me if this year’s roster projection becomes less accurate as we inch closer to the start of the regular season.

While trying to construct a 53-man roster, there were multiple players that I had a tough time imagine making the Falcons roster. So I do think the Falcons are going to be active at some point this summer to reshape some depth roles at certain roster spots and could be very active upon the waiver wire at the end of August/beginning of September to bring in fresh blood at certain positions. The possibility of adding veteran cornerback Leon Hall in the near future is already out there.

But enough hedging, let’s get to the positional breakdowns. Rookies are noted with asterisks (*).

QUARTERBACKS

Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup: Matt Schaub

Pretty cut and dry at this position. The Falcons signed Schaub this offseason with the full intention that he’ll back up Ryan this year. I wouldn’t say Schaub is a “lock” to make the team because the reality is that he’s just not that good a quarterback at this stage in his career. So it’s not impossible that either Sean Renfree or Matt Simms could outplay him this summer. But if it’s anywhere close, then it’s Schaub’s job by default.

RUNNING BACKS

Starters: Devonta Freeman, Patrick DiMarco
Backups: Tevin Coleman, Terron Ward, Gus Johnson

Last year I predicted the Falcons to keep two fullbacks largely because I wasn’t sure who was available as a fourth running back. I think the fact that Johnson was one of a handful of practice-squad players that the team chose to retain at the end of the year, suggests they like him. He was impressive at times for the Dallas Cowboys last preseason and I think he could do much the same this summer in Atlanta to earn that fifth running back spot.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Starters: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu
Backups: Justin Hardy, Nick Williams, Devin Fuller*, Aldrick Robinson

Yes, I’m predicting that neither Eric Weems nor Devin Hester make the team this year. The Falcons can free up about $4 million in cap space by cutting both players before the season starts, which I think will be too enticing to pass up given the potential that the team has younger options that could potentially replace both veterans, who are on the wrong side of 30. Hardy can fill Weems’ slot on special-teams coverage, while Fuller can man Hester’s vacated spot as a returner.

TIGHT ENDS

Starter: Jacob Tamme
Backups: Austin Hooper*, Levine Toilolo

I came very close to putting D.J. Tialavea on the roster instead of Toilolo, but ultimately I went with the latter as the third tight end. Toilolo will likely be on the bubble this summer despite “starting” 15 games last season. Tialavea does many of the same things he does: block and play special teams, and will be cheaper.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Starters: Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Chris Chester, Ryan Schraeder
Backups: Mike Person, Tom Compton, Bryce Harris, Wes Schweitzer*

I don’t expect any major shakeups to the offensive line like we saw last year as I believe the team wants to build on some of the continuity they established last year. I suspect Person and Compton will be the top two reserves active on Sundays with Harris and Schweitzer providing additional depth. Yes, this means that #TeamJamesStone is on its last legs.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Starters: Derrick Shelby, Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman, Vic Beasley
Backups: Jonathan Babineaux, Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw, Joey Mbu, Malliciah Goodman, {Unknown Defensive End}

The starters are the team’s most likely “base” package, although players like Babineaux and Clayborn, who will both be nickel guys, will play a lot more.

I don’t see Tyson Jackson making the roster at this point. Unless he’s locked in as a starter, and I don’t see how he can be unless Shelby or Jarrett get injured between now and the start of the season. There’s simply no way the Falcons will keep him on the roster for Week One as a backup if/when his $4.25 million base salary becomes fully guaranteed.

This is also one of those positions I was referring to earlier, in which I think the Falcons will be active scouring the waiver wire between now and the start of the season. I put Goodman on the roster, not because I see him making it, but largely because I think he’ll be a place-holder for someone else to potentially backup Shelby as a five-technique defensive end this year.

As for the unknown defensive end, there’s a decent chance it’s O’Brien Schofield.

LINEBACKERS

Starters: Brooks Reed, Paul Worrilow, Sean Weatherspoon
Backups: Deion Jones*, De’Vondre Campbell*, LaRoy Reynolds

I have the Falcons cutting Philip Wheeler, basically due to money. I think there’s a good chance he stays, but I do think the Falcons don’t want to have any obstacles to getting their rookies on the field and Wheeler’s presence is potentially that. Instead, Reynolds makes the team as the sixth linebacker due to special teams ability.

Yes, I think Worrilow and Weatherspoon will start Week One. I’m not super confident in that prediction, and I would put money on Jones and/or Campbell starting by year’s end. But I think the Falcons won’t be too eager to rush the rookies onto the field right away in 2016.

CORNERBACKS

Starters: Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford
Backups: Jalen Collins, Akeem King, {Unknown Free Agent}

This is where a guy like Hall or Phillip Adams should come into the mix. In fact, I honestly believe that the Falcons might bring in a couple of guys, which could also push King off the roster and onto the practice squad.

SAFETIES

Starters: Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal*
Backups: Kemal Ishmael, Robenson Therezie

Shouldn’t be too much of a shock with the projections here. If the Falcons do try and move Brian Poole to safety or play Sharrod Neasman here, I think there’s an outside chance either undrafted rookie could stick. Potentially at the expense of the fifth running back.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Starters: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris

I’m really reaching here!

Final Thoughts

I do wholeheartedly believe that there’s at least one defensive lineman and cornerback that will be on the Falcons to start the regular season that are not currently on the roster. And it’s possible that before the month of May is over, the Falcons will have added both potential candidates.

If you’re looking at some returning veterans that are going to be cut that may catch a few people off guard, they would be Tyson Jackson, Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Sean Renfree, James Stone, Tyler Starr, Philip Wheeler and Charles Godfrey.

I’m sure I’ll be off on several of these predictions when all is said and done as injuries certainly will play a factor as they always do when it comes to building and maintaining a 53-man roster. But here’s at least one idea of how things might be setting up to play out this summer.

About the Author

Aaron Freeman
Founder of FalcFans.com

1 Comment on "Post-Draft Prediction of the Falcons 53-Man Roster in 2016"

  1. Wheeler will be there, they wouldn’t have wasted time and money bringing him back just to cut him. If anything I think Worrilo’s days are numbered even though I think he’d be a good back up. Jone will beat him out for the Mlb spot easily.i

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