The Atlanta Falcons have finally delivered their roster cuts, and with less than a week until the team hosts the New Orleans Saints for the first game of the season, we have a short time to digest the moves made.
What I want to do now is briefly break down the interesting portions of the roster in a good and ugly format, similar to our in-season recaps, with another section that breaks down players who could still be replaced in the days and weeks ahead. Buckle up and join me on a whirlwind tour of the 2014 Falcons roster, if you would.
- Keeping three quarterbacks, surprisingly. In the average year, I would be beyond annoyed with the team for keeping three players, and I still would have preferred Sean Renfree stay on as the primary backup. Yet the team was justifiably afraid they would lose Renfree through waivers, but wanted T.J. Yates around to serve as the bridge backup for 2014. It's not an ideal move, but I'm relieved they didn't lose Renfree in the process and now that I've seen the practice squad mostly come together, I don't feel like they lost anyone at a dire position of need in the process. If Yates is available and decent when called upon this season and Renfree takes over behind Ryan in 2015, this gets a thumbs up.
- The running back depth chart looks terrific. Steven Jackson should be the hammer in this rushing attack, Devonta Freeman looks like its best pure runner, Antone Smith can hit home runs and Jacquizz Rodgers quietly blocks and catches extremely well. They've even got an interesting prospect on the practice squad in Jerome Smith, giving them fantastic depth. If Freeman grows rapidly, this will be a true strength of the roster.
- Cliff Matthews questions aside, the defensive line looks strong and bulky. You've got Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Malliciah Goodman, Matthews and Ra'Shede Hageman, not to mention Osi Umenyiora, Kroy Biermann and Stansly Maponga ready to step in when the Falcons go with four down linemen. That's a group that should be able to stop the run well, at the very least.
- The secondary has more talent from top to bottom than a year ago. Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford and Wiliam Moore should be standouts, Robert McClain and Dwight Lowery should be solid as long as they're in the lineup and guys like Kemal Ishmael, Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas provide potentially quality depth. They should be able to buy the pass rush a little more time to get home, assuming the pass rush materializes.
- The team made the right decision at tackle, keeping Lamar Holmes, Gabe Carimi and Ryan Schraeder. I was concerned they'd get rid of the young Schraeder, but he's got real promise, Holmes will likely start and Carimi should be a useful reserve. Given that I have some slight misgivings at center and guard, this should be applauded. The starters across the board are stronger than they were just a year ago.
- The team managed to keep Jacques Smith just a stone's throw away, so the decision to keep the intriguing Tyler Starr around doesn't bother me. If he falters, Smith will be waiting in the wings, and given the team's question marks at outside linebacker, that's good.
- While the moves were and will continue to be controversial, keeping Eric Weems, Courtney Roby and acquiring Nate Stupar gives the Falcons some players with truly stellar special teams reputations. Keith Armstrong was clearly powerfully concerned with the state of special teams after the first couple of preseason games, and the team gave him some talent to work with. Add in Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Devin Hester and reliable long snapper Josh Harris and the team should be in good shape in that phase of the game, even if I reserve the right to be a little annoyed that the team isn't keeping more well-rounded players in some of those spots.
- I'll cop to not loving Weems and Roby. I understand it, but the Falcons are still just an injury away from having to press one of these two guys into action, and they're both mediocre wide receivers at best. Reedy's a call away on the practice squad and the Falcons can always hit the wire, but still.
- Tight end is a real concern. Levine Toilolo is a player I like, but he was quiet all throughout preseason and is backed up by Bear Pascoe, a block-first TE without great hands. The Falcons said they plan to de-emphasize the position this season, and they'll need to for it not to be a true concern.
- I'm not thrilled that the Falcons are an interior injury away from potentially needing to start Peter Konz or James Stone. Konz looked better than a year ago but still disappointingly shaky, and Stone is an undrafted free agent, as promising as he may be. I'm glad Harland Gunn is kicking around on the practice squad, of course, but I'm curious about why Stone was selected over him.
- Linebacker is the team's most glaring weakness, and the pass rush goes hand-in-hand with that. Jonathan Massaquoi will be leaned on as a pass rushing option from both end and linebacker, along with guys like Maponga, Biermann and, on the interior, Paul Worrilow, Prince Shembo and Joplo Bartu. That's not a recipe for a terrific pass rush, even if the secondary steps up as anticipated and the big dudes up front soak up blockers. Adding Stupar clearly didn't do much for that.
- While the secondary should be a strength, I'm still concerned about Lowery lasting through the season. I truly am.
Those Who Could Be Replaced
- Courtney Roby
- James Stone
- Peter Konz
- Cliff Matthews
- Nate Stupar
- Tyler Starr
- Josh Wilson