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Falcons 53-man roster projection: Post-draft

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With the Falcons’ draft on the books and a slew of UDFAs added to the team, here’s an early look at what Atlanta’s roster might look like going into the 2017 season.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The dark times have arrived—the period between the end of the draft and the beginning of training camp. News is practically non-existent. Hot takes are flying. Every team is filled with optimism. Well, every team except the Browns, Bears, and 49ers.

What can we possibly do to fill the great football void? Well, make entirely-too-early projections about the make-up of the Falcons’ 2017 roster, of course. Taking the recently added draft picks and 20-something UDFAs that Atlanta has added into account, here is my first roster prediction of the offseason. I hope that you will enjoy it (and not take it too seriously, it is May after all).


OFFENSE - 25

QB - 2

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub

The Falcons have kept only 2 QBs on the active roster for the last several years, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Ryan is the reigning MVP and is one of the best QBs in the NFL. Schaub is a dependable, if uninspiring, back-up that is experienced in the scheme.

RB - 3

RB Devonta Freeman
RB Tevin Coleman
RB Brian Hill

I expect Atlanta to shape the roster in a similar fashion to last season, and that includes keeping only three “true” RBs. Freeman and Coleman form one of the deadliest RB tandems in the league, while rookie Brian Hill will look to make his mark on special teams and occasional short-yardage or clean-up duty.

FB - 1

FB Tyler Renew

The first UDFA I have making the roster, Tyler Renew is an intriguing player that I believe inspires a lot more confidence than either of the other FBs the Falcons brought into camp. He’ll have to adjust to a blocking role, but Renew offers good ability as a receiver and runner to go along with impressive athleticism.

WR - 6

WR Julio Jones
WR Mohamed Sanu
WR Taylor Gabriel
WR Justin Hardy
WR Andre Roberts
WR Nick Williams

There has been a lot of speculation about how the Falcons offense will change under Sarkisian. Running 3-WR sets more frequently is almost certainly a reality, meaning Atlanta is likely to keep 6 WRs again. Jones, Sanu, and Gabriel form a devastating trio, with dependable possession receiver Justin Hardy and speedy return man Andre Roberts providing solid depth. Williams will ideally be a gameday inactive, but he’s a solid player with proven ability in the scheme.

TE - 4

TE Austin Hooper
TE Levine Toilolo
TE Eric Saubert
TE Josh Perkins

One of the more high-variance groups on the roster, the TE corps has a ton of potential this year. Hooper needs to take the next step, but has the potential to become a very good dual-threat player. Toilolo is the team’s best blocker at the position who is good for a catch or two a game. Rookie Eric Saubert needs quite a bit of development, but his athletic talent and potential as a receiver are through the roof. With Perkins, you have to think the coaching staff kept him on the roster through all of 2016 for a reason.

OL - 9

LT Jake Matthews
LG Andy Levitre
C Alex Mack
RG Wes Schweitzer
RT Ryan Schraeder

C/G Ben Garland
G Sean Harlow
G/T Robert Leff
T Andreas Knappe

The Falcons have four out of five offensive line starters solidified, and the fifth is a heavy favorite to win the job this offseason. If Schweitzer can simply replicate Chris Chester’s production—AKA be an average RG—Atlanta should possess a very good offensive line in 2017.

The depth is a little more interesting. Garland is the favorite to be the primary interior back-up (and should play a little NT, too). Harlow isn’t likely to find a starting job, but will stick on the roster as depth while he adjusts to the NFL. I firmly believe Atlanta will add a veteran swing tackle before the beginning of the season, but for now the gigantic Andreas Knappe is their best bet. Leff’s positional flexibility and polish may help him win the final OL roster spot.


DEFENSE - 25

DL - 10

EDGE Vic Beasley
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
EDGE Brooks Reed

DE/DT Adrian Clayborn
DE/DT Jack Crawford
DE/DT Derrick Shelby
DE/DT Courtney Upshaw

DT Grady Jarrett
DT Dontari Poe
DT Ra’shede Hageman

Dan Quinn loves to rotate on the defensive line, and that isn’t likely to change this year. That’s why there are only 3 true EDGEs and 3 true DTs on the roster—the other four players are all DE/DT hybrids that can line up anywhere. Quinn loves that versatility and the creative packages it allows him to create.

Beasley and McKinley will likely be the starting EDGE players by year’s end, but Reed will pitch in as well. Clayborn, Crawford, Shelby, and Upshaw will likely play outside in base, but inside in nickel situations. Jarrett and Poe will man the interior in most situations, with Hageman subbing in as necessary.

LB - 6

MLB Deion Jones
WLB Duke Riley Jr.
SLB De’Vondre Campbell

LB Kemal Ishmael
LB LaRoy Reynolds
LB Jermaine Grace

The Falcons elect to keep six LBs in this roster projection—namely because they value them on special teams and because Ishmael is likely to provide depth at SS as well. Jones and Riley should combine to make a formidable and extremely athletic duo, with Campbell providing TE coverage and rushing ability from the SAM spot in base packages.

Ishmael is likely to be the primary back-up at WLB, and could even start there if Riley needs more time to acclimate. Reynolds is the primary MLB behind Jones, and the athletic Grace manages to make his way onto the roster through an impressive training camp.

CB - 5

CB Desmond Trufant
CB Robert Alford
CB Jalen Collins
CB Brian Poole
CB C.J. Goodwin

The first likely controversial decision in this projection is that the Falcons elect to keep only five “true” CBs on the roster. Trufant, Alford, and Collins will be the starters, with Alford dropping into the slot in nickel situations. Poole will likely be cross-trained at S, but should still be the dime CB and primary back-up. Goodwin proved himself last season as a dependable rotational DB, and should be Collins’ primary back-up.

S - 4

FS Ricardo Allen
FS Damontae Kazee

SS Keanu Neal
SS Sharrod Neasman

The Falcons also elect to keep only four “true” safeties on the roster. Allen and Neal are fairly entrenched as the starters, as both played well throughout the 2016 season. Kazee is being converted to S, but will also spend time at CB and should be able to provide depth there as well. The athletic Neasman improved throughout the 2016 season and should win the back-up SS role with a strong training camp, although Kemal Ishmael will still be rotated there if needed.


SPECIAL TEAMS - 3

K Matt Bryant
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris

Just like QB, this section essentially writes itself every offseason. Bryant proved that he was his clutch self again in 2016, and is in no danger as long as he can continue to kick at a high level. Bosher is one of the best punters in the NFL and is a mean tackler to boot. Harris is so dependable that nobody even knows who he is half the time—which is good if you’re the long-snapper.


PRACTICE SQUAD - 10

QB Alek Torgersen
DE Darius English
C/G Cornelius Edison
CB Deji Olatoye
S Marcelis Branch
LB Josh Keyes
TE D.J. Tialavea
T Daniel Brunskill
WR Devin Fuller
RB Terron Ward

Here’s a ridiculous early attempt at the practice squad make-up, which is really a fool’s errand at this point without seeing how anyone performs in training camp. But, in the darkest days of the offseason, we have to do something to keep things interesting.

  • Torgersen is an intriguing young QB with excellent physical talent and a good work ethic—I think he has the potential to become Atlanta’s future back-up in a few years.
  • English is a pretty good pass rusher that is small and utterly awful against the run—he needs seasoning, but has potential.
  • Edison was a recent signing that has experience playing in the NFL at C—depth piece to develop.
  • Olatoye played admirably at times during the 2016 season, and the team keeps him a phone-call away from the active roster.
  • Branch is a really cool story and a player that supposedly benched a ridiculous amount of weight, so I’m hoping for good things from him.
  • Keyes spent time on the practice squad and active roster last season, and is a depth/ST piece.
  • Tialavea was the Falcons’ favorite player to promote on-and-off the roster last season, and will likely fill that role again.
  • Brunskill is a TE convert that needs to bulk up and spend some time in the weight room, but his athletic ability makes him an intriguing stash for the future.
  • Fuller is an athlete with good ability as a returner, but he’ll need to impress as a receiver to make the 53-man roster. Coming off his injury, I think he impresses just enough to snag a practice squad spot.
  • Ward has manned the RB3 position for several seasons, but with Brian Hill coming in, he likely gets pushed to the practice squad. If he doesn’t get picked up by another team, he’ll be the first guy Atlanta calls if one of their RBs is injured.

So, there it is. This roster produces a balanced offense and defense (25 each), with a good mix of special teams talent throughout. While there are less “true” DBs than would be expected, the Falcons mitigate this by having versatile players scattered around the roster.

This projection features all of the Falcons’ rookies making the roster, along with a pretty impressive (and unlikely) four UDFAs. Ultimately, I think three is the upper limit, with T Andreas Knappe being pushed onto the practice squad in favor of a veteran swing tackle option. Quinn has shown that he’s totally unafraid of ditching veterans in favor of intriguing young talent through his two years as the Falcons’ HC, so crazy things could still happen.

What do you think of this roster? What are the strengths? The weaknesses? Any areas you’d change? Players you’d include or remove?