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What Falcons have the most to gain or lose after the first preseason game?

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The games don’t matter, but the performances do

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-Training Camp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We hear it every year: preseason games don’t matter. While it’s true that winning or losing the game is of little consequence, there are very real ramifications for the 53-man roster and the practice squad. Players like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Desmond Trufant have very little to worry about. In reality, you’re probably looking at fewer than 10 spots that are truly up for grabs, but those spots matter and these are the games where players make their best case for being one of the final 53. So who has the most to gain or lose in this first preseason game?

Receivers

Let’s be clear: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Hardy are pretty much locks to make the roster. After them, however, the certainty disappears quickly. Last year, the team carried 6 receivers on the 53-man roster, though that number could easily dip to 5 this year. That means two open spots and quite a few players contending for it.

Aldrick Robinson has been quitely impressive in camp, and this first game could help him put distance between him and the rest of the competition. Nick Williams managed to surprise people and made the roster last year, even contributing one or two catches per game. He appears to be behind Robinson at the moment, so this game will be critical for him as well.

Veteran Eric Weems is a special teams maven who has offered only a little as a true receiver and could be on the bubble this season. Then you have names like David Glidden and J.D. McKissic, who have stood out in camp. They need to make an impression in this first game and a good performance could be a huge boost in making a case for the 53-man roster.

It’s a loaded competition, and almost all of these players have a lot to gain or lose after Thursday’s first preseason game.

Linebackers

This competition may be one of the most important for the team. Instead of talking about guys down the depth chart, we’re now looking at starters vs backups. Veterans like Paul Worrilow and Sean Weatherspoon will probably take the initial snaps at inside linebacker, but the team is obviously anxious to see the performances of De’Vondre Campbell and Deion Jones.

Campbell and Jones are the future, the question is how quickly will that come? This first preseason game is going to establish if those flashes in camp are legitimate, or if these relatively raw players still need time to develop. With a good showing from one or both, Campbell and Jones have the most to gain by showing out against Washington.

Offensive Line

In reality, this is really a competition for the right guard spot, though don’t undersell the possibility that left guard could see a switch as well. Veteran Chris Chester will get the initial reps, but it’s clear the team would prefer to not have to lean on the veteran. Rookie Wes Schweitzer could make a big push with a solid performance on Thursday, while Mike Person will also be in the mix. Again, this is a battle for a starting spot, so the stakes are very high. Schweitzer and Person have the most to gain of any offensive line players, so keep an eye on both of them.

Cornerback

With Jalen Collins set to serve a four game suspension to start the season, the nickel cornerback spot is up for grabs. Brian Poole has been getting significant looks at both safety and CB, and could be the front-runner given his versatility. Converted receiver C.J. Goodwin has been quietly impressive while veteran DeMarcus Van Dyke has shown he can serve in that capacity as well. Second year player Akeem King also figures to compete for the spot. This is a critical competition, and there is absolutely no guarantee who is going to get it at this point. The performances of each of these players against Washington will be critically important, not only for making their case for the roster, but for making their case for significant playing time.

Your thoughts on who has the most to gain/lose from the first preseason game?