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Five Falcons who should see more playing time in 2017

These five Falcons could be poised to take a step forward.

NFL: Preseason-Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This morning, we took an irresponsibly early stab at what the roster might look like. While there will be errors in something like that, picking a handful of players who should get more playing time should go more smoothly. Right?

Here’s five Falcons that should be on the roster in 2017 who should be primed for larger roles, and hopefully more success.

Josh Perkins

The Falcons will likely be trotting out Austin Hooper and Levine Toilolo as their two primary tight ends, with a rookie possibly lurking. Tight end is a critical part of Steve Sarkisian’s offense, Perkins is a former Washington player, and he showed a bit of promise catching the football.

That should be enough to get him on the field more often in 2017, given that I think Toilolo is still no more than an occasional option in the passing game. If Perkins has refined his route running and blocking a bit, he should be the team’s third tight end, and I don’t think something like 20-30 receptions is all that outlandish. If he can step up, the team will have yet another weapon to add to a ridiculously talented offense.

Wes Schweitzer

This one is dependent on what happens at the right guard spot, where the Falcons could add a talented rookie to take over the gig, or sign a free agent later on who can compete for it. If the team doesn’t elect to draft a Forrest Lamp or a Dan Feeney early on in this class, Schweitzer should get to compete for a starting spot. The team talked up how well he performed last offseason, so it shouldn’t be a throwaway competition.

Schweitzer has upside and expecting the line to stay fully healthy for the second straight year might be foolhardy, so there’s a couple of ways we could see Schweitzer in action. Obviously I’d prefer it wasn’t the latter.

Derrick Shelby

Shelby was just starting to look good before an injury cost him the rest of the 2016 season. He’ll be recovering from that injury throughout the spring and early summer, and with Jack Crawford and Dontari Poe in town, there’s fewer snaps to go around.

Despite that, I think you’ll see a lot of Shelby once he rounds into form. He’s a strong run defender, decent pass rusher, and a player the Falcons clearly liked last offseason, so as long as he doesn’t suffer any major setbacks, I’d anticipate he’ll get a good chunk of the snaps at defensive end on early downs and quite a few more at defensive tackle in nickel sets. That’s not going to be anywhere close to a majority of those snaps, but then, the Falcons have a lot of options. The injury should and does make me a bit wary, but I’m a believer in Shelby.

Kemal Ishmael

Like Shelby, Ishmael’s season was ultimately undone by injury, and just as he had started to get a long look at linebacker. Now healthy and coming back to a team that needs quality, veteran depth at minimum, Ishmael figures to have a big role as a reserve linebacker, safety, and core special teamer. I think he’ll get on the field at LB more than you’d expect.

There is an outside shot that Ishmael could get starter’s snaps at linebacker in base 4-3 sets, too. I wouldn’t sleep on him getting that opportunity, though the Falcons certainly aren’t going to go into the year with just him, LaRoy Reynolds, and maybe Brooks Reed hanging around at linebacker with Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell.

Sharrod Neasman

If Ishmael is going to get more significant snaps at linebacker, as I suspect, the Falcons are going to need to give third safety duties to someone else. Brian Poole might be in the mix if Atlanta decides to get him more involved at safety, but as of today, the most obvious beneficiary is Neasman.

Neasman didn’t do a heck of a lot as an undrafted free agent in 2016—nor would you expect him to--but he has a clearer path to a roster spot and a role than he did last season, when he opened up the year on the practice squad. I like his skill set and do think that if the Falcons are serious about being young and athletic in the secondary, as they very much appear to be, you should see more Neasman in 2017.