Biggest surprise: Mike Person
With Ben Garland and Wes Schweitzer both showing well in the preseason, and Person having a pretty rough one overall, I was certain that last year’s starting Center was going to be shown the door. I still believe the team may opt to find a better player to replace him, but I was all but convinced that he was gone.
Biggest roster strength: Defensive Tackle
I wasn’t expecting this, but with the emergence of Grady Jarrett and surprisingly effective play of Tyson Jackson, this unit finally has some depth to it. When Babs is relegated to a support role, you’ve done something right.
Biggest roster weakness: Tight End
I like Jacob Tamme, but after him is nothing but wildcards. Hooper has long-term potential but looks like a rookie right now. Toilolo is what he is - a below average receiver and an average blocker. Joshua Perkins looked good in camp, but is also a rookie. It’s also unclear if he’ll even be active on game days. For an offense that relies on tight ends a good bit, this is a very questionable group at the moment.
This roster is very hard to project. With so many young players set to contribute, it’s almost impossible to assess the quality. What I will say is there is a ton of potential on this roster. Whether that potential means 10-6 or 1-15 will depend largely on how some new, key starters manage to play. I’m optimistic that this roster is headed in the right direction, but any playoff hopes for 2016 have been set on the backburner for now.
Biggest surprise: Joshua Perkins
It remains to be seen if Perkins will actually remain on the roster. With Jalen Collins suspended for four games, the Falcons currently have only four cornerbacks on the roster. This includes an undrafted rookie in Brian Poole and a converted wide receiver in C.J. Goodwin. Teams rarely hold four tight ends on their roster. Perkins showed upside as a pass catcher, but struggled as a run blocker. The undrafted tight end appeared to be a prime candidate for the practice squad. Instead, he defied the odds and made the team (for now).
Biggest roster strength: Offensive line
No position stands out as a true strength, as there are average starters and/or poor depth across the roster. The offensive line should take a step forward as one of the more formidable units in the league, however.
Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder continue to evolve as tackles. Alex Mack should prove to be a colossal upgrade over Mike Person. Despite struggling with penalties, Andy Levitre faired well as a run blocker. If Chris Chester holds up for one more season, there shouldn’t be any major liabilities on the offensive line. That hasn’t been the case since 2010, when lineman such as Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, and Tyson Clabo were opening holes and keeping a clean pocket for Matt Ryan.
Biggest weakness: Linebacker
Despite having two rookie linebackers with significant upside, there are plenty of questions surrounding this group. Deion Jones displayed excellent speed and instincts during preseason. His open field tackling is still very concerning. The same applies for DeVondre Campbell, who overran running plays and struggled to get off blocks. Both linebackers are expected to develop into key players, but there will be growing pains. Sean Weatherspoon’s health is always a major question mark. Paul Worrilow remains on the roster as well. Someone will need to break out and become a dependable three-down linebacker.
The roster is still lacking at several key positions. How the defense generates pressure and lines up in the nickel package will be crucial. With Quinn’s defense lining up in the nickel 60 percent of the time, cornerback depth will be tested immediately. Can untested players like Brian Poole or C.J. Goodwin cover wide receivers such as Willie Snead and Seth Roberts? Many expect Matt Ryan to control their fate. While the franchise quarterback will need to rebound from last season, pass rush and cornerback depth could ultimately determine their playoff chances.
Biggest surprise: Josh Perkins
I never expected the Falcons to keep four tight ends, and while Josh Perkins turned many heads this summer, the team’s roster needs seemed to dictate that they’d have to go without the undeniable luxury he provided. Instead, the Falcons have chosen to keep Perkins around and elected to waive Nick Williams instead of Perkins when they landed former Brown Taylor Gabriel. Perkins is someone to keep an eye on going forward.
Biggest strength: Tackle
There are certainly concerns here if the Falcons lose a starter, but the group of Ryan Schraeder, Jake Matthews, and new swing tackle Tom Compton could be one of the NFL’s best. An honorable mention goes to a deep safety group, the team’s set of defensive tackles, and the 1-2 punch at running back.
Biggest weakness: Pass rush
Cornerback almost qualifies, but Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are so good that the thin group here isn’t quite as alarming. Simply put, the Falcons don’t have any potentially great pass rushers beyond Vic Beasley, Dwight Freeney, and maaaaaybe Grady Jarrett, and they’ll likely once again struggle to consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. At least the pass rush should be improved.
The roster shook out in roughly the shape I thought it would, give or take a few names. It’s still pretty top-heavy, but the Falcons are finally adding youth and athleticism to their linebackers group, the offense looks at least mildly improved more or less across the board, and the defensive line is deep, if not a tremendously talented unit overall. The Falcons made tangible progress in their ongoing efforts to build this team into a genuine playoff contender, and while I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to pan out, I do like this roster about as much as I could possibly like any configuration of the 90 guys Atlanta entered the summer with.
Biggest surprise: Taylor Gabriel
The Falcons are serious about adding speed across the board, and they made that clear when they claimed the ex-Browns wide receiver. I don’t expect Gabriel to have a tremendous impact, but his blazing speed has to be respected when he’s on the field. He put up over 600 yards on just 36 receptions in 2014, so the deep ball potential is definitely there. It’s a necessary move for a group that had virtually no speed outside of Julio Jones and Aldrick Robinson.
Biggest strength: Defensive tackle
If preseason is any indication, Grady Jarrett absolutely looks like a playmaker, and Tyson Jackson hasn’t been terrible. Jonathan Babineaux should be the same effective player in limited action, and Courtney Upshaw showed off his versatility as he logged some snaps at the position.
Biggest weakness: Pass rush
Sure, the addition of a veteran in Dwight Freeney should do nothing but help a unit that notched just 19 sacks in 2015 — good for last in the league — but the Falcons are banking heavily on Vic Beasley to step up in his second year. Brooks Reed, who is now healthy will need to show what he can do, too. The Derrick Shelby signing was heralded as a good move, but that remains to be seen. This unit should be better — if only because it can’t be much worse.
This roster is highly dependent upon newer players stepping up and performing. If they stumble mightily, then this team could be in for a long season. Overall, the Falcons may look better than they did last season, but the brutal schedule could squander any playoff dreams.
Biggest surprise: Taylor Gabriel
We didn't know he'd become available, but this is another weapon for a WR group that is already much improved since the dark days of 2013-2014. Fun fact: Abilene Christian's pro day was held outdoors on a day with 25mph winds. Gabriel's first run of the 40 yard dash was directly into this wind. He still clocked a 4.48. Then they turned him around and had him run the other way. He was timed at 4.27. He has a headstart on the scheme having played under Shanahan in 2014. It's not just the deep pass. Get him the ball in space and he can be an Antone Smith type of home run threat.
Biggest strength: Offensive playmakers
Having Julio and Freeman on the same team was sweet last year. Now add Sanu, Robinson and Gabriel plus a season of experience for Hardy and Tevin Coleman, and we are certainly not lacking for playmakers. The offensive coaches will be under the gun if the offense sputters, as this group has far too much talent to waste.
Biggest weakness: Inexperience on defense
We have a rookie strong safety, two rookie starting linebackers, a second tear nose tackle, a second year pass rusher, a free safety in his second true season, and no experience at all in our nickel corner options. They'll have their growing pains. In particular, we saw in preseason that they are vulnerable to no-huddle quick attacks.
It's great to have the front office and coaching staff working in sync. It's a night vs day difference compared to 2013-2014. If you're looking for the team to do a "hard reset", they've already done it. This team is going to be fun to watch.