Roster Talk: The Twenty Most Vulnerable

The Falcons will have to cut 14 players a week from today to get their roster limit down to the league-mandated 75-player limit. This Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Titans will be the last opportunity for a few players in their short NFL careers.

Trying to peg which fourteen players will have to turn in their playbooks by next Tuesday is tough to predict. But I’ll try and highlight twenty players at each position group that are most vulnerable.

It should be noted that sometimes teams will try and cut a player at the first cutdown date in the hopes that they sneak through waivers and can be later added to the practice squad. The Falcons haven’t normally done this as I could only find a single instance of this occurring under Thomas Dimitroff. That came a year ago when tight end Chase Coffman was cut early on and wound up on the team’s practice squad. So it’s certainly possible that a player that I haven’t mentioned here gets cut firstly because I’m not omniscient, but secondly because the Falcons might be wanting to sneak someone through waivers in order to scoop them back up come September.

Quarterback – Seth Doege

I think it’s obvious that Doege is on the bubble as he has yet to attempt a pass in the preseason. In past years, the Falcons have given all of the fourth preseason game reps to a single quarterback. Although I think that might change this year with both Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree perhaps needing the extra work.

Running Back – Donald Russell

The Falcons have a glut of young guys that have flashed ability, but I think they’ll be hard-pressed to take all of them into the final preseason week where they face the Jacksonville Jaguars. Typically reserves like Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling have gotten work in that game, but that might change this year if the team wants to get longer looks at Antone Smith, Josh Vaughan, and/or Ronnie Wingo. Of the group, Russell might be the most vulnerable simply because he has shown the least of the group as a runner, although no one should mistake that for meaning Russell hasn’t showed anything.

Fullback – Devonte Campbell

The Falcons likely will carry a pair of fullbacks into the final preseason game, including starter Bradie Ewing who needs the extra reps. Patrick DiMarco hasn’t been great, but he’s been clearly better than Campbell, who has looked lost at times trying to transition to a full-time fullback when he spent most of his college career lining up at tight end.

Wide Receiver – Marcus Sales, Rashad Evans

Because of the glut of young players yet to emerge at this position in competition for the fifth wide receiver spot, the Falcons could in fact keep all of their receivers in the hopes that one rises to the top in the final presason game. I only mention Slaes and Evans because they appear at the back end of the depth chart and among the eleven wideouts the Falcons have on their roster, have probably been mentioned the least over the past month as roster candidates. However with that said, if either emerge Saturday against the Titans, then it could easily be Marcus Jackson, James Rodgers, Darius Johnson, Martel Moore, or Kevin Cone finding themselves out of jobs next week. For all receivers involved, it is in their best interest to put their best feet forward this weekend.

Tight End – Colin Cloherty, Tim Biere

Biere was picked up to replace an injured Tommy Gallarda, and hasn’t received much attention at all. That could mean he could stick around for another week so the Falcons can get a longer look at him, but given that it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion who will make the team at this position, the Falcons would only be delaying the inevitable. Cloherty is coming off a poor performance against the Ravens, and unless he lights it up on Saturday, he’ll likely be gone. Andrew Szczerba might be able to stick for an extra week simply because he still stands an outside shot of earning a spot due to his blocking ability (or rather the lacking blocking abilities of those ahead of him in Coffman and Levine Toilolo).

Offensive Line – Terren Jones, Jeff Nady, Alec Savoie, Theo Goins, Matt Smith

Collectively all of the undrafted rookies are vulnerable, except Ryan Schraeder. It’s likely some will stay, presumably one of the tackles in Jones or Savoie. It’s telling that of this group, only Savoie received extensive reps against the Ravens, probably indicating he’s the safest. Although he did not play well against the Ravens, so that might cancel out any advantage. Traditionally the five starters play a series in the final preseason game before giving way to the backups. And thus the Falcons will likely keep seven backups to rotate throughout the game. Those seven likely will be four members of the current 2nd group: Phillipkeith Manley, Joe Hawley, Harland Gunn, and Schraeder, plus Jacques McClendon, and then another tackle (likely Savoie).

Defensive Line – Cam Henderson, Brandon Thurmond, Neal Huynh

If I was a betting man, I think Huynh is safer than the two ends, who haven’t earned that many reps. The Falcons appear content with the five ends they’ve drafted over the years plus Osi Umenyiora playing there. I don’t think Huynh has a chance of making the roster, but given that the Falcons will certainly sit Jonathan Babineaux as well as potentially Corey Peters against Jacksonville, means that they might keep Huynh just for the sake of having a fifth body for the preseason finale.

Linebacker – None

If you were twisting my arm, I’d probably add Nick Clancy or Brian Banks to this list, but at this point I’d be surprised if the Falcons released any of their linebackers before the Jaguars game. The roster battle at this point is still too highly contested to lose even one guy.

Cornerback – Jordan Mabin, Terrence Johnson, Peyton Thompson

You probably forgot Mabin was on the team. No offense to him, but he just hasn’t played enough to make any impression. Johnson was a player I projected to make the final roster, so it would pain me to see him go before the final cutdown. But he has yet to stand out. Peyton Thompson has also not made a great impression giving up a touchdown in each of the first two preseason games. More than likely, at least one if two (probably Thompson, then Johnson) will stay for another week, but they are certainly on the bubble.

Safety – Troy Sanders

Sanders has contributed a bit on special teams, so he may have accomplished enough to stick around for another week. But he’s the most vulnerable of the group simply because he’s the only safety on the roster that this team didn’t draft.

Special Teams – Jeremy Shelley

It’ll be interesting to see what the Falcons decide to do with Shelley. In recent years, the Falcons have taken only their regular specialists into the final preseason game. But that was also the case since none of the “camp bodies” at kicker or punter really stood out to earn an extra week with the team. That is not necessarily the case with Shelley, who has done enough to earn a look with another team potentially in 2013 if an injury occurs or some veteran struggles. Do the Falcons cut him, giving him the opportunity to latch on with another team sooner rather than later? Or do they keep him for an extra week and allow him a greater opportunity to put more good tape out there to increase his chances of being picked up later in the year? It’s an interesting question that we’ll have answered next Tuesday.

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Aaron Freeman
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