On the eve of training camp, it’s time to predict which players will make the Falcons 53-man roster to start the season. As things progress this summer, I’ll continue to update how things are looking.
One of the challenges of accurately predicting who will make a roster is injuries. Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL, and no team is immune from them. There are always going to be at least one or two players that were near-locks to make the team that wind up beginning the season on injured reserve. Players like Will Svitek and Bradie Ewing fit the bill from 2012. And that is bad for those players, but also gives unexpected opportunities for others. And even when a player doesn’t suffer a season-ending injury, it certainly affects the roster. If a key player sprains his knee and is going to miss just one or two games, it will often cause the team to carry an extra player at his position group into the season, which leads to carrying one less player at another.
Another factor is that when other teams make cuts, players that the team likes will become available. And it’s hard enough predicting who the Falcons will cut, it’s near impossible to predict who the other 31 teams will cut. Thus it’s unknown, which veterans will become available and who the Falcons could possibly add to bolster their roster heading into the season.
So I have no expectation that these predictions will be 100% accurate due to unknowable factors like that, but if I can get 48 of 53 players correct, I’d be extremely happy. I put an asterisk (*) beside the players that I believe remain eligible for the practice squad. A double asterisk (**) indicates players that I believe fulfill the parameters to allow a potential third year on the practice squad (normally players are only allowed two).
While I do think there is a relatively good possibility (around 25%) that the Falcons opt to bring in an outside veteran to bolster depth at this position, right now I do think the odds favor the Falcons opening the season with Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree poised as the team’s two backups behind Matt Ryan. While the new trend in the NFL is to keep only two quarterbacks, I’m not convinced that the Falcons have that much confidence in Davis to keep him alone on the roster. Especially since the Falcons did use a draft pick on Renfree, and that indicates that they do have long-term plans for him.
Who Makes It: Matt Ryan, Dominique Davis*, Sean Renfree*
Who Doesn’t: Seth Doege*
To probably no one’s surprised, I think Steven Jackson and Bradie Ewing open the season as the starters at running back and fullback. I also think Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling are locks to make it given their value as role players. While I think Antone Smith is probably facing the most heated competition of his short Falcon career, I still give him the edge since he’s a known commodity on special teams.
Who Makes It: Steven Jackson, Bradie Ewing, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Antone Smith
Who Doesn’t: Josh Vaughan, Ronnie Wingo*, Donald Russell*, Devonte Campbell*, Patrick DiMarco*
Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Harry Douglas are locks. Drew Davis showed enough last year that I think he’s the front-runner for the fourth spot. The fifth spot is wide open, but I’m choosing Marcus Jackson, who was the most impressive receiver of the non-starters last summer in my eyes. He’s a player that I’m hoping will be able to showcase value on special teams, which he’ll need to earn the fifth and final spot.
Who Makes It: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Drew Davis, Marcus Jackson*
Who Doesn’t: Kevin Cone, James Rodgers*, Rashad Evans*, Martel Moore*, Darius Johnson*
After Tony Gonzalez, I think this position is probably a little more wide open than probably many believe. I think Levine Toilolo is a lock to make the roster, but not necessarily a lock to get a lot of reps this year. I don’t think it’s likely, but if he has a lackluster camp, then the Falcons might go searching for more help at this position. But again, I don’t expect that to happen and the Falcons will be content with him as the No. 2, while Chase Coffman mans the third spot.
Who Makes It: Tony Gonzalez, Levine Toilolo*, Chase Coffman**
Who Doesn’t: Tommy Gallarda*, Colin Cloherty, Andrew Szczerba*
I think the seven players that have been drafted by the Falcons over the past six seasons are pretty much locks to make the team. They will form the seven players that will be active on Sundays each week. The real question at this position group will be which five players will be the starters, and which players will emerge as the eighth and potentially ninth guys in the rotation. Due to their cross-training abilities the Falcons could get away with only eight players on the roster but it’s something that they rarely have done over the past five seasons, so I don’t expect it to start now. Right now, I’m leaning towards the guard-tackle combo of Phillipkeith Manley and Ryan Schraeder to earn the eighth and ninth spots, respectively.
Who Makes It: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Garrett Reynolds, Mike Johnson, Lamar Holmes*, Joe Hawley, Phillipkeith Manley*, Ryan Schraeder*
Who Doesn’t: Jacques McClendon*, Harland Gunn*, Terren Jones*, Alec Savoie*, Theo Goins*, Matt Smith*
The Falcons have had a plethora of defensive linemen on their roster in recent years, going with as many as ten players. I think they will start out 2013 with that same number. Given the potential of some ends to play tackle as well as outside linebacker in their hybrid defense, I don’t think the Falcons quite view it as having ten true defensive linemen. I think it results in six defensive ends because the team wants to develop some of their younger pass rushers, but only four defensive tackles. I also believe that defensive tackle is the position most likely to be addressed with a veteran addition at the end of camp. It’s just hard for me to see the Falcons justify keeping Peria Jerry when they can save nearly a million against this year’s cap, and it’s clear that he has no value to the team beyond this season since his contract expires at the end of the year. They might as well cut ties this summer, and find a cheaper, better player to fill the void. So at this juncture, I’m putting Micanor Regis on the roster more as a placeholder for that veteran to come. But I do think Regis does have a legit chance to win the spot if he has a repeat performance of last summer, where he was impressive off the bench.
Who Makes It: Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Osi Umenyiora, Jonathan Massaquoi*, Travian Robertson*, Micanor Regis*, Malliciah Goodman*, Cliff Matthews, Stansly Maponga*
Who Doesn’t: Peria Jerry, Adam Replogle*, Neal Huynh*, Cam Henderson*, Brandon Thurmond*
The Falcons kept only five linebackers last season and I think we’ll see a repeat of that in 2013. The ability of Kroy Biermann and/or Jonathan Massaquoi to potentially be plugged in here, plus the teams reliance on nickel means that having a ton of depth at this spot isn’t as valuable as it once was. I do think there also exists the possibility that if none of the young players jump out this summer as backups, the Falcons could seek veteran help elsewhere once cuts are made. But I do think the Falcons will try and develop their young guys, and Pat Schiller and Brian Banks both stick as backups. I should also mention that it is certainly plausible if he has a lackluster summer, Stephen Nicholas could be dumped in a cost-cutting maneuver at the end of camp. But I think that’s doubtful given the inexperienced depth and the fact that I think Nicholas will have a good summer.
Who Makes It: Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas, Pat Schiller*, Brian Banks*
Who Doesn’t: Robert James, Joplo Bartu*, Nick Clancy*, Paul Worrilow*
Similar to the Falcons front, I think there will be ten players when all is said and done here. I think the team’s reliance on nickel means that the traditional sixth linebacker spot is now being replaced with a fifth safety spot. I think the Falcons keep five safeties because of the backups at that position’s value on special teams, and the fact that the team doesn’t want to cut more than one of the four players they’ve drafted over the past four years. The guy that I predict to be on the outs is Shann Schillinger. Schillinger is the most proven of the four on special teams, but I expect both Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta to shine there this summer, thus making Schillinger a little less “special” in that regard. I think that inability to perform on special teams ultimately gets cornerback Dominique Franks booted, and replaced with Terrence Johnson, who won’t have that issue.
Who Makes It: Asante Samuel, Desmond Trufant*, William Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Robert McClain, Robert Alford*, Charles Mitchell, Kemal Ishmael*, Terrence Johnson, Zeke Motta*
Who Doesn’t: Dominique Franks, Peyton Thompson*, Saeed Lee*, Shann Schillinger, Troy Sanders*
No surprise here, going with the same three that made the team last year. As for who fills the returner spots, I pick Alford to man both spots. Although based on the roster I’ve constructed, it’s possible Jacquizz Rodgers continues to return kickoffs, while Alford only handles punts.
Who Makes It: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Who Doesn’t: Jeremy Shelley*, Sean Sellwood*
Predicting who will make the eight-man practice squad is especially hard given it’s really about which young guys step up in camp. And every year, there are guys that you’ve written off as little more than camp bodies that have strong camps. Predicting who those players will be is tough.
Who Makes It: RB Ronnie Wingo, WR James Rodgers, WR Martel Moore, TE Tommy Gallarda, OT Terren Jones, LB Paul Worrilow, LB Nick Clancy, CB Peyton Thompson