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Why J.D. McKissic didn’t make the Falcons roster

Every year we get caught up in the “camp star” and every year it burns us

NFL: Preseason-Atlanta Falcons at Miami Dolphins Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend, an un-drafted receiver - with tons of potential - was cut from a team for which he showed very well during camp and the preseason.

That’s right: the Bucs released Bernard Reedy. Yes, the same “Speedy” Reedy that Falcons fans were convinced was going to make the roster two years ago was just cut (again) by the Tampa Bay Bucs.

Why do I bring this up? Because as passionate fans, we do this to ourselves every single year. We get caught up in the story of the underdog - the player who just needed an opportunity - and we convince ourselves that they’re the next un-drafted star. Or, we become convinced that they’re at least better than XYZ veteran on the team.

This year, that player was J.D. McKissic.

Before camp, I doubt most fans had even heard of McKissic, which is understandable. Once camp started though, his name became more and more visible in the reports of players who were standing out. His 101 yard touchdown return in the first preseason game put his name firmly in the “player to watch” category, and even yours truly thought he would edge out a veteran for one of the final WR spots.

So, why didn’t he make the 53-man roster?

First, it’s important to note that McKissic, Williams and Weems were all competing for the coveted fifth wide receiver spot. It’s already a foregone conclusion that Aldrick Robinson had taken (rightfully so) the fourth receiver spot. When it comes to this offense, that fourth receiver is not going to see the field very much. Most of the formations the Falcons will run will feature at least one running back and/or one tight end. So, even Robinson is unlikely to see a ton of offensive snaps during game days. That is doubly-true for the fifth wide receiver, which means one thing: special teams value.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: McKissic was clearly a better returner than either Williams or Weems - and I agree completely. However, the value of a kick returner has been on the decline for several years now. With teams getting the ball at the 25 this year on touch backs, very few teams will let a kick-off returner bring it out if that ball is anywhere in the end zone. While McKissic looked great returning kickoffs, we have no idea if he was a good punt returner. At the least, we know that Eric Weems is reliable - if not particularly exciting - in that role. For that fifth receiver, the player has to have special teams value across the board, not just as a returner. While McKissic is a better returner, Weems is an all-around special teams maven. His play on special teams coverage units is top-notch, and highly invaluable.

So, the logical follow-up question is this: why not make McKissic the sixth receiver? Here are some things to consider when answering that question. First, the sixth receiver is almost certainly going to be inactive on game days. In the rare instance that they are active (likely because someone above them is injured and won’t play), they will need to be able to step in and know the offense. Between McKissic and Nick Williams, the latter knows the offense far better at this point. Additionally, McKissic has practice squad eligibility and is a likely candidate for the Falcons list. I’m not certain if Nick Williams can be put on the practice squad or not (the rules are so confusing), but given that he was on the roster for 16 games last year, he has at least shown that he has value and is more likely to be picked up by another team if cut.

Editor’s note: Obviously, Taylor Gabriel now fills the role that Nick Williams had, but the same logic still applies here.

All of that said, McKissic could still be in the long-term development plans for the team. He did show good return skills and good hands as a receiver. The team may feel that he needs another season before he’s fully ready for the NFL, and sticking him on the practice squad is a great way of giving him the time he needs. Given that he was likely going to be inactive on Sunday anyways, using one of the 53 spots to keep him just didn’t make sense.

What are your thoughts on not putting McKissic on the 53-man roster?