We talk a lot about roster locks and roster bubble players, but there is a sort of middle ground of players who seem safe for 2016, but may not be safe in 2017 if they don't have quality seasons.
You'll notice that four out of these five players are on defense, which is no accident. All of them are holdovers from the Mike Smith era and trying to carve out significant roles on Dan Quinn's
More than a few Falcons fans got hot and bothered for Starr when he was drafted, looking at his measurables and salivating at the prospect of an athletic edge rusher in Atlanta. Two years later, all we know about Tyler Starr is that Dan Quinn believes he's made progress, and he got in his first game at the end of the season and got his first NFL tackle along the way.
The Falcons are in need of help at linebacker, and if Starr can offer anything as a pass rusher, he'll be able to carve out a role on the defense. He's unlikely to ever become more than a reserve for Atlanta, but if he's going to lock himself into even that role, Starr will need to get on the field and show the coaching staff he's valuable. Otherwise, he'll likely be squeezed out by fresh additions to the defense in 2017, if not sooner.
I said the other day that I don't think Hageman is going anywhere, especially this year, and I stand by that. At the same time, Hageman is a former second round pick at defensive tackle who is heading into his third NFL season, and that's the time where a player of his prodigious strength and potential has to show he belongs on the field. If Hageman can be truly impactful for 30 snaps each game, he'll have a role in Atlanta for many years yet. If he can't, he may go down as the latest draft disappointment for the Falcons.
The good news for Hageman is that Tyson Jackson could very well be gone in 2016, which would free up some snaps for him to prove himself. The time is now.
The tall tight end is heading into his fourth season, and has proven to be a competent blocker and special teamer, but not much of an asset in the passing game. With Jacob Tamme becoming a free agent heading into 2017 and the team needing a long-term solution at the position, Toilolo's effectively got one last chance to prove he can be a worthy option in the passing game, or at best he'll be a backup and blocker as he has been going forward.
The Falcons are extremely unlikely to seek an upgrade for Brooks Reed, considering they have a starting spot to fill with Justin Durant and are likely to seek an upgrade at middle linebacker and return Paul Worrilow if they don't. But make no mistake: Reed had a disappointing first season, and his contract makes it much easier to cut him starting in 2017. The team won't blink at his annual $5 million cap hit if he plays at a high level, particularly against the run and in coverage, but if he struggles again Reed will be gone next season.
Goodman was a high-upside fourth round pick, given his length, strength, and athleticism, though he was never likely to be an elite pass rusher because of his plodding first step. Still, he can be a valuable piece of the Falcons' rotation on the defensive line if he he's able to make strides, even if it's difficult to figure out if the Falcons kept Goodman around but inactive in 2016 because they didn't have other options or because they wanted to give him some time to develop.
Who on this list will step up, and who will end up leaving in 2017?