With rookie minicamp wrapping up today, everything ahead should feature the full Atlanta Falcons football team. We’re going to be focusing, then, on the key roster battles, the shape of the roster, and who earns major roles over the summer.
These are position battle questions, yes, but they also concern larger questions about how this roster looks when the Falcons finalize their 53 man roster. Let’s get to it.
Does Wes Schweitzer start at right guard?
All indications point to yes, but I’d be irresponsible if I didn’t point out that we are in May. Schweitzer’s grasp on the starting job won’t be secure until the dust settles in August, even if he has a major leg up. This is the most unsettled position on the roster aside from fullback, though, and it’s much more vital that Atlanta find a good starter there than at fullback.
As I noted yesterday, though, Schweitzer is the favorite, which is nice to see. He’ll need to fend off the likes of Sean Harlow, Robert Leff, Daniel Brunskill, and perhaps a veteran free agent to lock it down, though.
How will the defensive line rotation shake out?
Takkarist McKinley, Vic Beasley, Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, and Derrick Shelby are the most obvious “starters” along this front, but you’ve got Brooks Reed, Adrian Clayborn, Jack Crawford, and Courtney Upshaw available too. That’s a deep group, and a couple of those players will have diminished 2017 roles, just by simple math. McKinley may not be ready for a major role from day one, but the preseason games in particular should help us suss out who is going to get the most run out of this group.
My guess is that Clayborn and Reed get fewer snaps than the rest of this group at end—making them somewhat expensive reserves—while Upshaw finds himself taking a backseat at both end and defensive tackle if he makes the team at all. As I said, it’s a deep group, and a decent player is going to be the last man off the bench. The only big corollary question here is whether McKinley, Clayborn and Shelby are going to be healthy enough to get major snaps in Week 1.
Where are Damontae Kazee and Brian Poole going to play?
The Falcons have said Kazee should play safety and some nickel for the team, which helps to clarify his role. The question is how much time he’s going to share with Poole, who was the team’s primary nickelback a year ago, and how much time he’s going to get at safety. Hell, we don’t know if Poole might get some run at safety, either.
A lot of this will depend on how quickly Kazee gets up to speed, because you can’t expect a talented player like Poole to simply roll over and give up a role he did quite well in a year ago. Bear in mind that if Kazee is slow off the blocks, the Falcons could ink a veteran safety or turn to Sharrod Neasman, who does have promise.
How large will Jalen Collins’ role be?
Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are locked into starter’s snaps as the two best cornerbacks on the team, Poole and Kazee will get snaps at cornerback, and C.J. Goodwin was quietly very solid a year ago, and will be active because of his considerable special teams value. That leaves Collins in an interesting spot.
The Falcons play with three cornerbacks often enough that Collins should find his way to plenty of snaps, but bear in mind a lot of his playing time down the stretch came with Desmond Trufant out for the year, and that the Patriots did pick on him a bit in the Super Bowl. It may prove to be a dumb question—Collins is a former second rounder who was massively improved a year ago, after all—but I do wonder if he’s going to automatically be slotted ahead of Poole and Kazee when the Falcons roll three corners out on the field.
Who is the nominal starter at tight end?
Austin Hooper has loads of promise and figures to carve out a major role in this offense for the 2017 season. We heard lots about his improving blocking last season, and he’s already the quickest, most lethal receiving option at the position. Eric Saubert, DJ Tialavea and Josh Perkins figure to fight over one or two reserve spots, which means Levine Toilolo is the only threat to Hooper’s starting job.
Toilolo has quietly turned into the kind of player the Falcons were hoping they were getting when they drafted him in the fourth round a while ago. He’s still not a huge red zone threat—Hooper and Saubert will be those guys, hopefully—but he blocks pretty well, can hurt you if you leave him open, and has developed a solid all-around game. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was the first guy on the field, which would be a nod to his veteran status and value.
Steve Sarkisian is likely to use a lot of two tight end sets, as well, so this is less a vital question than an idle one. The offense will be better if Hooper is featured more than Toilolo, however.
What are the vital summer questions you’re considering for the Falcons?