Roster Talk: Most Vulnerable Falcons As Cuts Near

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kimario McFadden

The Atlanta Falcons will have to cut over a dozen players by Tuesday’s league-mandated deadline to get their roster down to 75 players. As the team heads into their third preseason action against the Tennessee Titans on Saturday, there are several players that are vulnerable to find their NFL hopes and dreams come crashing down. Let’s examine several of them.

Last year, I made a list of 20 Falcon players that were most vulnerable to be released by the Falcons at the initial 75-player cutdown deadline. The team needed to cut 14 players to get down to the roster limit. They did so, and 12 of the 14 appeared on my list.

I’ll do the same this year, by listing 20 players that I think are most susceptible to be released by Tuesday. Obviously, because the Falcons only have to cut 15 players this year, five of these players should be able to survive for another few days before rosters must be finalized at 53 players by Saturday, August 30.

As I noted last year, occasionally NFL teams will try to sneak a player through waivers by releasing him in the first cuts, so that he can eventually be placed on the practice squad a week later when those are established. That did indeed happen last year with quarterback Seth Doege being among the first cuts and eventually wound up on the Falcons practice squad. But that was more of a technicality since Doege’s presence on the practice squad was really only a result of third-string quarterback Sean Renfree suffering a season-ending injury in the preseason finale. Had Renfree stayed healthy, there’s virtually no chance that Doege would have been signed to the practice squad.

The Falcons also did this before in 2012 when they snuck Chase Coffman through the first cuts and he eventually landed on the practice squad. But the point is that this is not something the Falcons commonly do, and I would bet against it happening again this season.

Quarterback – Jeff Mathews

Mathews saw his first action of the preseason last week, but only played four snaps at the end of the Houston Texans game. If Mathews does not get more snaps in the second half of this week’s upcoming game against the Titans, it’s probably not a strong bet that he’ll make it through the initial cuts. Traditionally, the Falcons have only played two quarterbacks in the fourth preseason game, and it’s a strong probability that T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree will be those two. So basically this weekend might prove to be Mathews’ last chance, and thus he’ll need to get more than one series and perform at a relatively high level to salvage one more shot at the roster.

Running Back – Jerome Smith

Smith has been buried on the depth chart and hasn’t had many opportunities to get work in the preseason, with just one carry and two receiving targets in a pair of preseason games. What helps Smith is the fact that the Falcons only have four healthy running backs ahead of him, and probably would like to have five for the finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But recent news that starter Steven Jackson might get some looks in that game don’t bode well for Smith. I highly doubt Jackson will play against the Jaguars, but ultimately I don’t think it really matters. Basically, if the Falcons think Jackson is healthy enough to play, Smith becomes a lot more expendable.

Wide Receiver – Freddie Martino, Jabin Sambrano, Tramaine Thompson

As the last three receivers on the depth chart, Martino, Sambrano, and Thompson are the most vulnerable. Martino has seen the biggest workload of the trio, but has done little with it, having not caught a pass on two targets. Sambrano too has been shut out on three targets. Thompson has at least caught a pass, but the presence of Bernard Reedy probably makes him very expendable. Last summer, the Falcons carried eight wide receivers into the preseason finale. Not counting an injured Drew Davis, the Falcons currently stand at 12, which means this trio will be hard-pressed to survive.

Tight End – Jacob Pedersen, Brian Wozniak

The former Wisconsin teammates have seen very little action in two preseason games, each seeing 11 snaps which pale in comparison to backups Mickey Shuler (42) and Bear Pascoe (39). Helping them however is the fact that Shuler has recently suffered a concussion and thus might be unable to suit up in the coming days. That development is potentially enough to save one of them for another week, but probably not both.

Offensive Line – Pat McQuistan, Adam Replogle, James Stone

While I think recent addition Pat McQuistan is a long shot to make the roster, I think the team will provide him the courtesy of keeping him through the preseason finale. That leaves Replogle and Stone as the most vulnerable blockers. The fact that Stone saw snaps at left guard ahead of Replogle last week against the Texans probably doesn’t bode well for the latter, who is converting from defensive tackle.

Defensive Line – Theo Agnew, Nosa Eguae, Donte Rumph

Agnew was signed at the start of camp due to the retirement of Peria Jerry, and hasn’t earned enough playing time to think he will survive the first round of cuts. Eguae is probably the more vulnerable from a numbers standpoint because there are five defensive ends ahead of him, while Rumph only has to deal with three nose tackles with the return of Corey Peters.

Linebacker – Brenden Daley, Darin Drakeford, Walker May, Marquis Spruill

Spruill is worth mentioning because he can be put on injured reserve on Tuesday. The Falcons have held off on that despite his suffering a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago because trying to do so would have exposed him to waivers. Given that other teams have been more willing to claim injured players this summer, it was a risk the Falcons were understandably unwilling to take. Drakeford and May have earned little playing time this preseason, and Daley is buried at inside linebacker now that Pat Angerer is healthy again.

Cornerback – Devonta Glover-Wright

Among this list of players, I’d probably say that Glover-Wright is one of the safer players but that is not meant to suggest that he is indeed safe. The Falcons have a glut of corners ahead of him, and while his performance this summer has been relatively solid, he’s fighting a numbers game that he cannot win.

Safety – Tyrell Johnson, Kimario McFadden

Given the number of injuries that the Falcons have had at the safety position this summer, it might help either Johnson or McFadden stick around for another week. The latter is probably the safer of the two as he’s popped on tape a couple of times with some big hits on ballcarriers and returners. Johnson was signed mainly as a body until Dwight Lowery returned to the lineup healthy.

If I’m taking my best stab at the 15 guys that will find themselves cut by Tuesday, here goes:

QB Jeff Mathews
RB Jerome Smith
WR Freddie Martino
WR Jabin Sambrano
WR Tramaine Thompson
TE Brian Wozniak
OG Adam Replogle
DE Theo Agnew
DE Nosa Eguae
LB Brenden Daley
LB Darin Drakeford
LB Walker May
LB Marquis Spruill (placed on injured reserve)
CB Devonta Glover-Wright
S Tyrell Johnson

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