As our hunger for regular season games reaches a fever pitch, it's easy to dismiss the fourth preseason game as an unnecessary annoyance. In fact, stadiums are regularly empty for the last game of the preseason due to the normal absence of key starters. However, for guys not already locked in for a roster spot, this game is often the reason why they will or won't make it onto the roster. Given that, here are my three key takeaways from the game.
The curious case of Dezmen Southward
Of the many players on the bubble, none has been more disappointing than Dezmen Southward. If he were an un-drafted free agent, we may feel differently about his play this preseason. Given the fact that he's our third round pick from just one year ago, the fact that he's on the bubble is highly concerning. He really needed a strong showing during this game in order to cling to a roster spot. So how did he do?
It was a mixed bag. On the one hand, Southward showcased his excellent speed and his ability to contribute on special teams. He also showed the ability to play physically when he absolutely popped a Ravens player while playing at corner. But he also gave up two TD receptions, though one might argue he was in good position but unable to make a play on both.
So what now for Southward? His special teams value and his raw athleticism is probably making this a very difficult decision for the coaching staff. While Kevin White has looked better at corner than Southward, White still has practice squad eligibility where Southward does not. When you consider that Dez is a former third round pick, it's possible the team may not be ready to part ways with the young corner so soon.
I think his position on the team is still up in the air, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see him make the final roster. This will be one of the more intriguing names to pay attention to over the next few days.
The QB Battle
For the entire first half and part of the third quarter, Sean Renfree was alone in running the offense. Given that TJ Yates dominated the snaps last week, it seemed only reasonable that Renfree would take the majority of these. Later in the second half, newly signed Rex Grossman would close out the game.
So, where are we at in the battle for the number 2 QB position?
To be honest, it's a toss-up - and not in a good way. Let's start with Rex Grossman. It's clear the veteran QB hasn't played in a while as he looked pretty rusty and frankly, out of shape. He had a rough night, though I'm not sure it was reasonable to expect anything other than that. As for Renfree, his stats showed a decent night: 10/15, 75 yards, 1TD, 100.7 passer rating - but this came against 2nd and 3rd team defenses. So it's hard to truly gauge how he performed. Combined with Yates uninspiring performance last week, it's hard to tell who is really in the lead here.
If I were to venture a guess, I think TJ Yates ends up as QB2. I believe the team can put Renfree on the practice squad for one more year before his eligibility runs out and I think they'll do just that. But if any of these three ends up as the primary backup, it won't be a surprise nor very comforting.
Wide Receiver depth
For the first time in a long time, the Falcons have some quality depth at the WR position. After Julio and Roddy, Hankerson looks to be a worthy WR3 and possible WR2. Rookie Justin Hardy has had some growing pains, but has shown glimpses of his potential throughout the preseason. Devin Hester and Eric Weems can also contribute as receivers, but they're both here for their incredible special teams value. It's a near lock that these 6 guys will make the roster as a receiver, and yet, a couple of guys have shown up this preseason that make us wonder if the team will stretch the WR position to 7 spots.
Of those two guys, none has been more impressive than Nick Williams. At 5'10" and only 24 years old, Williams reminds many people of a younger Wes Welker. He's shown decent hands, capable route running and a willingness to take the big hit over the middle. He's also been an elusive runner with the ball and has shown he has special teams value by returning punts and kickoffs. Most people I've talked to believe he will be on an NFL roster this season - whether it's with the Falcons or not. Given that Roddy, Hester and Weems are all 30 and older, the Falcons may see a potential contributor for 2016 in Williams. He's an intriguing name to pay attention to over the next few days.
Another name that has shown up repeatedly is that of Carlton Mitchell. The bigger receiver has had a strong preseason but has the unfortunate luck of being on a roster deep with receiver talent. Given that Mitchell doesn't have practice squad eligibility, Mitchell has likely been auditioning for other teams in the league. We wish him the best, but his odds of making this roster are highly doubtful.
What are your takeaways from the fourth preseason game?