Three summers ago, I made predictions about what the Atlanta Falcons roster might look like in 2015. Recently, I revisited those predictions to discover just how oddly accurate and wildly inaccurate they were in most cases.
But in so doing, it got the creative juices flowing once more to try and do it again, this time predicting what the Falcons roster might look like three years from now in 2018. As I did then, I will break down each position group with the goal of examining a pathway that the Falcons roster could go down.
The Falcons find stability and continuity with the offensive line in 2016 with the exact same starting lineup featured that season continuing into 2018. Their unit is considered one of the “nastier” groups in the league, thanks to their zone-blocking scheme calling on them to do quite a bit of cut-blocking, angering every opponent they face.
Jake Matthews, now entering his fifth season in 2018 is the headliner and leader of the unit. Matthews is coming into his own at left tackle and is coming off his first Pro Bowl bid in 2017. Matthews has battled some injuries over the years, but there is no doubt that when healthy, he’s one of the league’s most consistent blindside protectors.
The only new face to the group is left guard J.R. Sweezy, whom the Falcons signed via free agency in 2016. The athletic veteran is no superstar, but fits the mold of exactly what the Falcons want under head coach Dan Quinn: an athletic and physical mauler in the middle of their line. What Sweezy lacks as a reliable pass-protector, he makes up for as a physical run-blocker.
Joe Hawley is able to turn a solid 2015 season into a brand new three-year deal in 2016. The 30-year old center has put together four consecutive solid years in Atlanta by the time 2018 rolls around, continuing to show the trademark nastiness that now epitomizes the Falcons front.
Beside him remains the “Steady Eddie” of the group: right guard Jon Asamoah. Even though Asamoah is approaching age 30 and entering the final year of his contract, there is talk of an extension being bandied about during the summer of 2018. His consistency and leadership have proven invaluable to the team.
At right tackle, Ryan Schraeder is able to turn an up-and-down 2015 performance into a stronger 2016 one, earning himself a nice five-year contract before the 2017 season. Schraeder hasn’t looked back in the time since and is considered to be one of league’s nastier players at right tackle.
Behind those five, the Falcons have a good group of backups. The team decides to move 2015 seventh-round pick Jared Rodgers to guard in 2017 to push Mike Person, who is not re-signed the following offseason. But never shy about bolstering competition, the Falcons use a 2018 mid-round pick on Virginia Tech guard Wyatt Teller. The team is optimistic that Teller can eventually begin to push either Sweezy or Asamoah for a starting spot in a few years rather than simply being the backup that Rodgers has settled in as.
Working beside him at center is former 2015 undrafted rookie Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, who is able to go from a practice squad spot as a rookie to a full-fledged backup in 2016 when he beats out James Stone for a roster spot. Ume-Ezeoke serves as a solid backup to Hawley thereafter.
At tackle, the Falcons spent a mid-round pick in 2017 on Virginia Tech offensive tackle Jonathan McLaughlin. McLaughlin serves as the team’s swing tackle and has proven a valuable option in brief opportunities when the injury bug has hit either Matthews or Schraeder.