The first round of cuts where the Atlanta Falcons are mandated to reduce their roster to 75 or less players is next Tuesday on August 30. That means there are several players that are very vulnerable to be among the team’s first 15 cuts to get down to that roster. Many of them will need to really put forth their best efforts in tonight’s third preseason game against the Miami Dolphins to earn an opportunity to get one more shot to make an impression in the Falcons’ preseason finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Then the final cuts will be made shortly thereafter on September 3.
In the past, I’ve done these projections of which players were the most vulnerable and have been fairly accurate in determining which guys would have the toughest time sticking through the first round of cuts.
In 2013, 11 of the 20 players I listed as most vulnerable were among the team’s 14 cuts to pare the roster down to 75 players.
In 2014, I was able to accurately pick 10 of the 11 players that were cutmto get down to 75 players.
In 2015, 13 of my 20 picks were cut among the team’s 14 cuts last summer, with one more move to put a player on a reserve list accurately projected as well.
Normally there is a reserve quarterback that is very vulnerable at this point, but as I mentioned earlier this week Matt Schaub has sewn up the No. 2 job already. Sean Renfree and Matt Simms are fighting for a chance as at the No. 3 quarterback, but both have flashed enough that neither should be in danger of getting cut in this first round. Expect them to both get extended reps against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the preseason finale.
Running backs: Gus Johnson, Terron Ward and Will Ratelle
The strong play of Cyrus Gray against the Cleveland Browns puts Johnson at the bottom of the totem pole, despite he himself having a fairly solid game too last Thursday. But Johnson is hurt by the fact that the other Falcons running backs have played so well this summer.
Terron Ward has been out of the lineup through the first three preseason games but is unlikely to be cut before he gets an opportunity against the Jaguars. There’s a chance that the Falcons could reach an injury settlement with Ward if they discover before Tuesday’s deadline that his injury will prevent him from playing in the finale against the Jaguars.
Ratelle is also fairly vulnerable given that he hasn’t really shown out at all in the first two preseason games. But he might be safe because the Falcons are unlikely to risk injury and give starter Patrick DiMarco extended reps in the preseason finale.
Wide Receivers: David Glidden and Corey Washington
Both Glidden and Washington are at the bottom of the Falcons depth chart at wide receiver and while both have had a few positive moments, there haven’t been enough of them to warrant a rise up the depth chart. Glidden’s lack of size makes him a good fit as a slot receiver, but he’s been losing reps in that role to Nick Williams and J.D. McKissic.
Washington’s size makes him an intriguing receiver prospect, but he just hasn’t made enough plays with Jordan Leslie outshining him both as a receiver and blocker.
Tight End: Arthur Lynch
The Falcons have extensively been playing their top five tight ends with a steady rotation of the backups behind Jacob Tamme. But Lynch is at this point an also-ran due to not seeing the field until late against the Redskins and Browns, while others like Levine Toilolo, D.J. Tialavea, Josh Perkins and Austin Hooper have each been seeing extended first and second-team reps. Lynch’s blocking has been underwhelming as well and he has yet to really stand out as a pass-catcher, making it a double-whammy of mediocrity.
Offensive Line: Laurence Gibson, Michael Huey, Collin Rahrig and Jordan Walsh
This foursome forms the team’s third-team offensive line along with Bryce Harris. Since Harris has gotten steady work with the second team, he’s not nearly as vulnerable. While all four blockers have had their moments late in the first two games, they haven’t been enough to rise up the depth chart. Walsh and Rahrig are probably the two most expendable options among this quartet.
Defensive Line: Ife Obada and Brandon Williams
Obada came to the Falcons as an athletic but raw player new to football and that has showed on the field. Williams has had his moments working with the third-string defense and has been solid in run defense, but the presence of Ra’Shede Hageman and Malliciah Goodman on the team makes him a bit more expendable.
Linebackers: Ivan McLennan and Matt Wells
McLennan had a couple of moments, notably a game-sealing sack against the Redskins. But for the most part hasn’t really stood out either as a run-defender or pass-rusher. In the latter category, players like Tyler Starr and Nordly Capi have looked much better.
Wells was a late addition to the roster and has been too inconsistent to think he has much of a shot of sticking beyond this first round of cuts.
Cornerbacks: Devonte Johnson, Jordan Sefon and Ryan White
It’s unlikely that all four of these corners will get the boot, but all four are on the bubble. Johnson has seen reps as a nickel cornerback, which should help him quite a bit. But so has Van Dyke, and it’s much likelier that the Falcons would keep Van Dyke over him. Sefon has gotten only a handful of snaps and probably will struggle to make it through this first round of cuts, although his play on special teams might save him. White was a very recent addition that stands almost no chance of lasting beyond this first round of cuts barring an amazing performance against the Dolphins.
Safeties: Sergio Brown, Sharrod Neasman and Damian Parms
If Kemal Ishmael returns healthy for the preseason finale, it’s going to be tough for the team to justify carrying all of these backup safeties through to the final cuts. Brown is vulnerable because of the “last one in, first one out” approach that often comes with these types of roster moves. But his experience and special-teams prowess also could mean that he’ll get an extra week to showcase his skills, particularly if Ishmael isn’t 100 percent by the Jaguars game.
Neither Neasman nor Parms have had enough notable plays to think they stand much of a chance of making the roster, but both have performed well enough that at least one of them should stick around through the Jaguars game.
Special Teams: None
The recent addition of Shayne Graham makes veteran kicker Matt Bryant vulnerable, particularly if his injury lingers into the regular season. The Falcons aren’t going to want to guarantee his base salary by having him on the roster for the season-opener if they can help. But there’s little chance that either Graham or Bryant are cut on this first round of moves.
The Impact of Injuries
Injuries often play a significant role in how this first round of cuts tend to go.
Last year the Falcons reached an injury settlement with center Peter Konz and placed offensive tackle Lamar Holmes on the regular-season version of the PUP list. The year before, there were four players that were placed on various reserve lists.
Right now, the notable injuries for the Falcons are Ward, Ishmael and Bryant, all of whom are suspected to miss the Dolphins game. The Falcons brass has indicated that none of those injuries are deemed long-term ones, so it’s unlikely that they will merit being put on injured reserve. But if Ward especially isn’t healthy enough to play against the Jaguars, it might be smart for the Falcons to cut him with an injury settlement sooner rather than later.
Should any additional players find themselves exiting tonight’s Dolphins game with an injury, they will immediately become vulnerable to winding up on one of the reserve lists, most likely being the injured reserve.
Here’s my best guess for the 15 players that will get the axe on Tuesday:
RB Gus Johnson
WR David Glidden
WR Corey Washington
TE Arthur Lynch
OL Collin Rahrig
OL Jordan Walsh
DE Ife Obada
DE Brandon Williams
LB Ivan McLennan
LB Matt Wells
CB Jordan Sefon
CB Ryan White
CB Devonte Johnson
S Sergio Brown
S Damian Parms