After the draft, lots of analysis focuses on which teams improved the most, how they improved, and how newly-drafted players will fit into their new teams.
But the flipside of that analysis is how the incoming draft class impacts “The Leftovers,” i.e., the veterans who constitute the depth and back end of the roster, particularly given that several drafted rookies will have their names immediately written in ink on the 2017 team roster.
Some of those veterans feel a bit better about their roster chances after the draft, whereas others are now on the outside looking in and in need of a standout camp in order to make the 53-man roster.
Roster bubble veterans whose roster chances were unimpacted by the Falcons draft.
WR/KR Devin Fuller
Fuller, the Falcons’ 2016 7th round pick, looks to be fighting for a WR6 spot on the roster against guys like Nick Williams and perhaps recent futures contract signee Anthony Dablé. Fortunately for Fuller, the Falcons did not draft a wide receiver or a kick returner during the 2017 draft. If Fuller can win the returner job outright in camp, that will be his opening to make the Falcons roster.
FB Derrick Coleman
Coleman is the marginal favorite to start for the Falcons at fullback this season, particularly because he’s the only fullback on the roster who has any NFL playing experience. Had the Falcons drafted a fullback, that probably would have sounded a death knell to Coleman’s chances of making the roster. Coleman thus just needs to outperform recent fullback free agent signee Soma Vainuku and recent undrafted free agent signee Tyler Renew in camp in order to win a spot on the Falcons opening day roster.
OT Kevin Graf
Many people assumed that after letting Tom Compton leave in free agency, the Falcons would either sign a swing tackle in free agency or draft a swing tackle. But they did not do so, and all indications are that 4th round pick college offensive tackle Sean Harlow will move inside and play guard. That leaves returning veteran Graf - who spent most of the year on the practice squad but was briefly called up to the roster at season’s end - with an opportunity to win the swing tackle job depending how he performs in camp versus undrafted free agent signee Andreas Knappe and others. (It should be noted, however, that there are some indications that the team is high on Knappe’s potential.)
DT Joe Vellano
Vellano stepped in when needed after some injuries hit the defensive line last season and he actually wound up playing 22 snaps in the Game-That-Shall-Never-Be-Mentioned. Vellano’s roster chances don’t appear to be especially favorable after the signing of Dontari Poe. But with the Falcons not drafting a defensive interior lineman and with Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn recovering from season-ending injuries, if one squints real hard, they can maybe see a way for Vellano to find his way onto the opening day roster.
Roster bubble veterans whose roster chances took a hit after the Falcons draft.
RB Terron Ward
Ward has performed fairly well for the Falcons the last two seasons during the few times he’s been called upon at running back. But now he faces a serious challenge to landing on the roster after the Falcons drafted Wyoming’s Brian Hill in the 5th round. Ward will need to have a great camp and hope the Falcons carry a RB4, something that they haven’t been inclined to do the last two seasons.
OG Hugh Thornton
Thornton still has a chance to win the starting right guard spot. But his roster spot seems more vulnerable than Wes Schweitzer’s and Ben Garland’s, with Schweitzer the marginal favorite to start and Garland being the team’s only option at backup center in the event of an Alex Mack injury (not to mention the fact that Garland is a jack-of-all-trades and can fill in at defensive tackle in a pinch). With the Falcons’ selection of Sean Harlow, Thornton’s chances of making the roster become a bit more tenuous, as they may not feel the need to carry any backup interior O-linemen beyond Garland and Harlow (assuming Schweitzer wins the job).
TE D.J. Tialavea/Josh Perkins
Tialavea started 2016 on the practice squad, but wound up getting called up to the roster after injuries to Jacob Tamme and Austin Hooper and wound up catching a touchdown pass in week 16 against the Panthers. He appeared to have an outside shot at making the roster, particularly if he could outperform Josh Perkins in camp, but those chances have taken a big hit with the Falcons drafting Drake’s Eric Saubert. Perkins’ roster chances also take a hit, though he was on the roster as a TE4 last year and is the early favorite to do so again, as he previously played in college for incoming OC Steve Sarkisian at the University of Washington.
LB Josh Keyes
After the Falcons let Paul Worrilow walk in free agency, and let Sean Weatherspoon and Philip Wheeler remain unsigned, it was shaping up that Keyes - who the Falcons added to the active roster at the end of the season - could grab the last linebacker spot on the depth chart. But now, with 3rd round pick Duke Riley added to the mix, Keyes looks to be on the outside looking in.
The good thing for all of these guys is that the Falcons coaching staff has shown a propensity to let guys compete, and we’ve seen the team make surprising roster decisions at the end of camp plenty of times before. Even if some of them don’t make the opening day roster, most still have practice squad eligibility and thus can be kept around in the team facility, in practice, and on the sideline to start the season. Because injuries do happen in the NFL, any of the guys listed above need to be ready when called upon, and we know the coaching staff will get them ready.