By this coming Tuesday, the Atlanta Falcons will have to pare down their 90-man roster to a league-mandated 75 players. That will of course mean that up to 15 players may see their NFL dreams evaporate before their eyes.
On Saturday, the Falcons will face off against the Miami Dolphins in the third preseason game. While this game is mostly known as a dress rehearsal for the starters, it also represents the last legit opportunity for several players to make their claim to make the roster or practice squad.
While many of these vulnerable players are longshots to stick on the final 53-man roster, their goal is to last to the equally important fourth preseason game. This summer against the Baltimore Ravens, the Falcons are likely going to sit most of their starters and top backups, allowing the remaining players one more opportunity to prove that they belong. And at the end of the day, that’s all a bubble player can ask for.
In 2014, I again made a list of 20 players. The Falcons wound up cutting 11 players and placing four more on reserve lists to get down to 75 players. 10 of the 11 cuts were among my list with one of the reserve players also making the list.
Here is this year’s list of 20 players by position that are most vulnerable heading into the third preseason game:
Quarterback – T.J. Yates
The addition of Rex Grossman earlier this week was clearly a shot across the bow of Yates, who has struggled this summer through two preseason games. He’ll need to show considerable improvement in the third game to even have a shot at sticking given that team’s newest addition coupled with the fact that he’s been outplayed by Sean Renfree. While Yates is probably going to last through the first cutdown, there’s the possibility that the Falcons maximize the number of reps that Grossman gets against the Ravens by clearing Yates out of the way. That possibility can only be abated if Yates’ play sees an uptick this week against the Dolphins.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn honestly indicated that Yates has struggled this summer with accuracy and decision making. While errant accuracy is not a good thing, the latter is a little harder to overlook for this coaching staff.
Last summer, Yates had the chance heading into the final preseason game to show why he was deserving of the backup spot. But due to the presence of Grossman, that situation now accelerates to this weekend against Dolphins.
Running Back – Michael Ford, Jerome Smith
Given the injuries that have plagued the Falcons throughout this summer at this position, it’s very unlikely that either Smith or Ford will find themselves among the initial round of cuts. But both players now stand firmly behind the eight ball in terms of their chances of making the roster, and need a big performance this weekend in Miami to try and get back in front.
Both Smith and Ford have not performed poorly this summer with a couple of solid runs each when working with the reserves. Yet Terron Ward has had a cemented place atop of the depth chart throughout summer despite gaining just 11 yards on nine carries through two games. Clearly, the Falcons’ coaching staff see something in Ward that they don’t quite see in Smith and Ford. And with the injured backs looking likelier to make their imminent returns in the coming days, both Smith and Ford really need to take advantage of this weekend’s opportunity with a strong performance to begin to close the gap on Ward. If so, then things become a little bit more fluid going into that final game against the Ravens.
Wide Receiver – Marquez Clark, John Harris, Carlton Mitchell, Bernard Reedy
This position is one that is relatively deep for the Falcons this summer, making a few more players vulnerable than most summers. But in the cases of all four of these players, they are at the bottom of the depth chart and thus vulnerable to not make it to next week’s game.
Harris is the most recently signed and thus the “last one in, first one out” policy typically applies unless he can really standout in his first action against the Dolphins this weekend.
Of the others, Clark has gained the least amount of playing time, making him vulnerable. Mitchell was signed after he tried out for the team during minicamp and that already meant he was a long shot entering the summer.
Reedy’s addition to this list would have been surprising to many a year ago, given that he was one of the stars of last summer’s camp. But the emergence of Nick Williams has helped marginalize Reedy this summer. This weekend could potentially the last opportunity for Reedy and the others to
Tight End – Mickey Shuler, D.J. Tialavea
As noted after last week’s game, the Falcons have probably settled on the three tight ends that will make the roster and that doesn’t include either Shuler or Tialavea. There’s of course always the unfortunate chance that a player gets injured, opening up an opportunity for either player. Between the two, Tialavea is the most vulnerable. His game-ending fumble last week certainly didn’t help his cause.
Offensive Line – Matt Huffer, Eric Lefeld, Valerian Ume-Ezeoke
Lefeld and Ume-Ezeoke make this list because they’ve garnered the least amount of reps through two preseason games, indicating that they are probably the lowest on the totem pole heading into the Dolphins game. Both have had a few fleeting bright spots, but not enough to move up further on the depth chart.
Huffer has garnered more snaps as the team’s third-string left tackle, but he’s struggled in both preseason games. Between himself as well as other players on the third string like Adam Replogle, Jared Smith and Pierce Burton, Huffer appears to be the most vulnerable player based off play alone. All three blockers need to have a good game against the Dolphins.
Defensive Line – Warren Herring, Derrick Hopkins, Sam Meredith
The third string defensive line is fairly vulnerable going into this third preseason game. Herring was one of the better players on the field for the Falcons last week in the second half, giving him a leg up potentially going into this weekend’s game. But he’ll need to continue it, as he by no means has solidifed anything.
Meredith has looked better than Hopkins, who has struggled as a nose tackle in two preseason games. The latter will need to really showcase more quickness and power this week against the Dolphins to make it through this first round of cuts.
Linebacker – Boris Anyama, Terrell Manning
With an injured Derek Akunne, Anyama and Manning become the two most vulnerable linebackers. Anyama has gotten opportunities, but just hasn’t made enough plays when he has. An athletic player that does possess some developmental upside because of that, Anyama will really need to make a couple of plays against the Dolphins to give himself the best chance to make it to the final preseason game. Manning on the other hand is in a similar situation as the aforementioned receiver John Harris. As a player that the team signed recently, he’ll too need to stand out against the Dolphins to make it to the final game.
Cornerback – Travis Howard, Michael Lee
Howard is another recent addition that will need to stand out to get an opportunity to make it to another game. He did not fare well in his debut last weekend. Lee has already been cut once this summer, indicating that there is a strong possibility that he gets axed again.
Safety – Jonathan Mincy
Mincy has shown some versatility in the Falcons’ secondary which should help his chances of surviving the first round of cuts. Working both as a nickel cornerback and free safety should give him a leg up over many of the other 19 players included on this list because those are two spots on the Falcons’ roster that are currently unsettled. While there’s little chance that Mincy will earn the nickel spot for the Falcons by opening day, the fact that the team is low on slot corners besides him and Kevin White means that Mincy has a skill set that is relatively unique. However, the team did play him predominantly as a safety last week. If that trend continues against the Dolphins, he’ll need to improve there and show that his versatility is something that might be worth keeping.
How Injuries Come Into Play
Even though I didn’t think it was worth listing Lamar Holmes and Peter Konz among the 20 most vulnerable players, I should note that their injury issues could certainly come into play on Tuesday’s cut down.
Given that Holmes started the summer on the training camp version of the PUP list, then he becomes eligible for the regular-season version of that same list on Tuesday. Given that there has been zero updates to indicate that Holmes’ return from the foot injury he suffered in June in the near future to avoid the regular-season PUP.
Konz’s knee surgery from last weekend reportedly will keep him out of a few weeks and an injury settlement means that a player won’t be eligible to be re-signed for at least six weeks. But given that Konz was a longshot to make the roster anyway, I suspect that extra time off won’t be too much of a deterrent to prevent the Falcons from cutting ties with their former 2012 second-round pick next week.
It’s also possible that linebacker Akunne (foot) and any player that suffers a major injury against the Dolphins this weekend will be susceptible to landing on the injured reserve or also reaching an injury settlement with the team.
Here’s my best guess as to which Falcons will be cut by Tuesday:
QB T.J. Yates
RB Michael Ford
WR John Harris
WR Marquez Clark
TE D.J. Tialavea
OC Valerian Ume-Ezeoke
OC Peter Konz (injury settlement)
OT Matt Huffer
OT Lamar Holmes (goes on Physically-Unable-to-Perform list)
DT Derrick Hopkins
LB Boris Anyama
LB Terrell Manning
CB Michael Lee
CB Travis Howard
CB/S Jonathon Mincy