Atlanta's preseason opener may have been an ugly team effort, but it is the individual we're more concerned with at this stage of Mike Smith's talent evaluations.
The good news: a couple of positions we thought were thin are actually looking much more competitive than previously thought. We'll go position-by-position as the coaches try and whittle this roster down to 53 men over the next four weeks:
Locks: Matt Ryan
In The Fray: Dominique Davis, Sean Renfree
Long Shots: Seth Doege
Davis started his night off very poorly, as everyone knows. But also consider how long of a look the second-year quarterback got against the Bengals, who as it should be noted have a solid, deep defense. The final line doesn't look atrocious, and the touchdown drive likely salvaged his night. He's still the No. 2 quarterback as of now. Renfree looked solid in what little he threw. If he keeps it up, there's a strong chance Atlanta carries three quarterbacks again.
Locks: Steven Jackson, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling, Bradie Ewing (FB)
In The Fray: Antone Smith, Ronnie Wingo, Patrick DiMarco (FB)
Long Shots: Josh Vaughn, Donald Russell, Devonte Campbell (FB)
We pretty much know who the tailbacks will be for the Falcons. Special teams extraordinaire Antone Smith looks like a good bet for the No. 4 spot, but Wingo's rushing performance (four carries, 29 yards) at least means he has a solid chance at making the practice squad. Vaughn seemed to struggle both coming out of the backfield and on the one kick he returned.
Actually, DiMarco is probably much more than "in the fray," seeing that he started last night's preseason game at fullback. Until Ewing is healthy (and I'm not so sure the Falcons aren't trying to mask the nature of his injury), the former Kansas City Chief is a solid bet to make the final roster, even if Jackson doesn't prefer a lead blocker.
Locks: Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas, Drew Davis
In The Fray: Kevin Cone, Marcus Jackson, Darius Johnson, Martel Moore, James Rodgers
Long Shots: Rashad Evans, Marcus Sales
Drew Davis certainly showed that he can do more than block and play special teams last night - two catches for 53 yards is not a bad performance, and his long of 31 yards came against the first-string Bengals defense. Douglas also looked good on his lone reception, though he also dropped an easy slant so it's a push for him.
Beyond those top four receivers, there are plenty of guys in play for the No. 5 (and potentially No. 6) spots at wideout. Cone comes in with experience. Moore has impressed all through camp. Johnson had a respectable two catches for 27 yards, as well. There will be some tough decisions to make for Smitty & Co. if one of these guys doesn't separate himself from the pack.
Locks: Tony Gonzalez, Chase Coffman, Levine Toilolo
In The Fray: Andrew Szczerba
Long Shots: Colin Cloherty, Tim Biere
Given how good Coffman has looked in limited action, I'd say tight end might be the most well-defined position on the roster. There's a chance Szczerba could see the practice squad if he gets a more extended look in the next few preseason games, but right now Gonzalez, Coffman and Toilolo sounds like a quality corps of tight ends.
Locks: Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Peter Konz, Garrett Reynolds, Lamar Holmes, Joe Hawley, Ryan Schraeder
In The Fray: Harland Gunn, Phillipkeith Manley, Jacques McClendon, Alec Savoie
Long Shots: Terren Jones, Theo Goins, Matt Smith
You've got the five projected starters, plus Hawley (by nature of his versatility) and Schraeder (by nature of there's nobody at tackle right now). Yeah, Holmes didn't look great, at least as a run blocker. Atlanta might start shopping around for a failsafe, veteran backup in the near future.
The good thing about Schraeder is that he can play both tackle positions, and he looked to hold his own against the Bengals. I'm really liking his chances at this point given how thin the position looks to be. Gunn and Manley were both on the roster last season, so they'll both have the inside track to come back. However, don't count out McClendon, either. He's stuck around the team as a practice squad guy, and he's a strong, stout dude at 6-foot-3 and 324 pounds. Didn't see a whole lot from Savoie, but again, no tackles to be found.
Locks: Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann, Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman
In The Fray: Stansly Maponga, Cliff Matthews
Long Shots: Cam Henderson, Brandon Thurmond
Hey, there's that Massaquoi guy we drafted. He got a sack. Right on! All reports seem to indicate he's been having a good camp, and he delivered come game time. Goodman, although not quite as impressive, did look, er, good. His chops are more involved in defending the run, anyways, so it's not like we should expect him to rack up a pair of sacks every night.
As for Maponga and Matthews, I think there's a really strong chance that both will make the final cut, and that we could see something like last year where the Falcons carry six DEs and four DTs. Matthews has also apparently spent time cross-training at defensive tackle, which is always a good thing. Henderson looked solid against the run, but I think his best bet is practice squad at this point.
Locks: Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Travian Robertson
In The Fray: Peria Jerry, Micanor Regis, Adam Replogle
Long Shots: Neal Huynh
In my humble opinion, this is the year Jerry and the Falcons finally go their separate ways. Combine his draft selection with the Ray Edwards signing, and those are two very bad whiffs on the defensive line by Smith and Dimitroff.
Regis didn't make a ton of noise, but like Robertson he's got good size and penetration ability. Replogle had a solid outing during his late game appearance, notching three tackles. At this point, I'd honestly say either of them have a better shot at making the roster than Jerry, who is in a contract year and is owed about $1 million this season.
Locks: Sean Weatherspoon, Akeem Dent, Stephen Nicholas
In The Fray: Robert James, Paul Worrilow, Pat Schiller, Joplo Bartu
Long Shots: Brian Banks, Nick Clancy
Well, this just got interesting.
I'm pretty sure Worrilow was one of the least talked about guys during training camp up until this point, but man did he have himself an impressive day: 12 tackles, one for loss and a pass break-up. If he's not on the final roster, he's on the practice squad, without a doubt. Of course, he'll have to beat out perennial backup Robert James if he wants that backup spot. James himself, well, he made a couple of plays on special teams, which we know Smitty loves. But it's hard to argue against Worrilow's outstanding production.
Outside of that, Schiller and Bartu both looked solid, and I think they're fighting for spots. Banks, well, we didn't see much of him until very late. I can't say that's a good thing, and let's remember that this guy played zero college football and is essentially a rookie in the pros. Learning the playbook isn't easy.
Locks: Asante Samuel, Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Robert McClain
In The Fray: Dominique Franks, Peyton Thompson
Long Shots: Terrence Johnson, Jordan Mabin
How bout that Alford guy? He looked real smooth out there. Trufant, well, he looked solid, though I did see him get plowed by Jermaine Gresham a couple of times. Those top four guys look to be set in stone for Atlanta.
Franks and Thompson look to be battling for that fifth spot. I didn't see much of Franks out there, but I did see John Skelton connect on a long touchdown pass over Thompson's head. That can't be good.
Locks: Thomas Decoud, William Moore
In The Fray: Zeke Motta, Charles Mitchell, Shann Schillinger, Kemal Ishmael
Long Shots: Troy Sanders
Speaking of backup defensive backs, almost none of them looked good against Josh Johnson, Skelton or even Dane Sanzenbacher. Motta looked solid, but everyone else really underwhelmed. Mitchell and Schillinger should definitely not feel safe at the moment.
Locks: Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Long Shots: Jeremy Shelley, Sean Sellwood
Matt "Money" Bryant and Matt "respectable punter" Bosher are what their names indicate. And I guess Harris wins the snapping job by default. Yay, special teams!