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Meet the Notable 2018 Falcons UDFAs

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A handful of these guys could be factors immediately, or down the road.

NCAA Football: New Mexico at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we now know the Atlanta Falcons’ official list of 27 2018 free agents. It’s a big list, but the Falcons have to fill out their roster with some fresh faces, given the need to supplant depth.

Of the guys listed, who should you keep an eye out for as the summer goes on? Well, here’s who we’ll be keeping an eye out for.

FBs Luke McNitt & Daniel Marx

The highlight of this conversation about UDFAs comes with the fullbacks. Nebraska’s Luke McNitt and Stanford’s Daniel Marx are both going to compete for a roster spot, and with the crop of veteran FBs a bit thin at the moment, these two might be the main contenders for the job.

McNitt sounds like a guy that’s got road yet to pave. Draft Analyst cites him as an athletic fullback with sound blocking prowess still needs to further develop his abilities as an offensive weapon. He spoke about his pre-draft process, which featured a workout on campus with new Falcons RBs coach Bennie Parmalee and a meeting with HC Dan Quinn. He mentioned the team specified his special teams ability as a bonus to his game.

Marx got a bit more involved than McNitt did in college in the air attack, and had three catches for 34 yards his last year at Stanford. Our sister blog Rule of Tree notes that he’s blocked for star collegiate running backs like Heisman candidates Bryce Love and Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey.

We don’t know just yet how involved the Falcons were with Marx pre-draft, nor can we exactly hail a favorite. But, both guys are the marquee names in this class, and one of them could very well be an active game day participant this fall.

QB Kurt Benkert

The Virginia alum was the team’s priority free agent, as ESPN’s Field Yates notes below the money they used to secure his arrival to Flowery Branch.

You don’t do that for a guy unless you’ve got plans for him, and whether he’s stashed on the roster or given a locked-in practice squad spot, it sounds like Atlanta has interest in Benkert. Perhaps he would’ve been the team’s last seven-round draft pick?

Benkert might not get a “Mr. Irrelevant” parade, but he might wind up sticking around in Atlanta for some time. He threw for 3062 yards and 25 touchdowns his senior season, and only had eight interceptions. NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein had this to say about the former Cavalier:

Gunslinger who holsters an NFL-caliber right arm, but needs to work on his marksmanship and decision making. Benkert’s completion totals are disappointing on intermediate throws, deep throws, and against the blitz. He has the arm talent to make all the throws but hasn’t shown signs of becoming accurate enough to ever been anything more than a backup at best.

But, all Atlanta really needs for the future is a backup QB, with veteran Matt Schaub’s deal expiring after 2018. If the team likes what Benkert shows in camp and in the preseason, he could stick around on the roster or on the practice squad and be given bigger responsibilities down the road.

RB Demario Richard

Richard, formerly of Arizona State, had major college production, posting up 977 yards and 12 touchdowns his senior season with the Sun Devils. Though some describe him as just a big, power back, his touchdown production is quite enticing. The Falcons need better power in the red zone, and whether it’s as a blocker or as a runner, perhaps Richard could make the roster as a fourth running back and get involved where it counts.

With Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Ito Smith in the fold, it’s not likely Richard would do a lot his rookie season, but keep in mind that Coleman might be gonezo after this season for greener pastures. He could be a surprise roster addition this season and do more down the road as the team’s third back.

WR Dontez Byrd

Dontez Byrd is an alum of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, Tenn. Most football players from Tech head into the workforce, not into camp with an NFL team.

He had two of the Golden Eagles’ best seasons for wide receivers in school history, with his 2017 campaign ending with 1,003 yards and six touchdowns. He’s only the 14th player from the school to even get this far, so this middle Tennessee resident will be cheering Byrd on to crack the roster or practice squad. He doesn’t exactly have blistering speed, but he’s got the production that might warrant a look on the practice squad at the least.

WR Lamar Jordan II

Former New Mexico dual-threat QB Lamar Jordan will be trying to latch on with the Falcons, and he’s an intriguing talent just from a “there could be more here” standpoint. He didn’t catch passes for the Lobos, but he did post up 2,501 rushing yards during his four years with the school, which is, quite frankly, remarkable for the position.

It’ll be interesting to track how he does in camp, and if he can really begin to shine as a skill position player in the NFL. Plus, it looks like he’s had the Falcons in mind for some time...

TE Jake Roh

I’ve written about Roh before, and I do think he could factor in to make the roster as a depth tight end. His college production against decent-enough defenses in the Mountain West might indicate he’s ready for more.

Some have floated the idea of Roh playing more of a h-back role and taking on some blocking duties as well, and it’s not a terrible idea. The Falcons showed a lot of interest in him, so we’ll see if he can nab a roster spot or a place on the practice squad.

T/G Matt Gono

I keep going back to Lance Zierlein, but he projected Wesley alum Gono as a late-round pick.

Gono has long arms and possesses the desired physical traits teams covet from small-school, developmental prospects. He overwhelmed inferior competition with his size and talent on the Division III level but will need more coaching and technique work before he is ready to match up against NFL talent. Gono flashes ideal bend and athletic ability on tape but needs more consistent aggression to handle guard responsibilities. Gono could be a late round stash-and-coach project with average upside.

The team didn’t bring in too many UDFAs for the OL, but with the personnel group the way it is, it’s doubtful any of the guys they brought in could crack the roster. But, Gono’s flexibility to play guard and tackle, and with one of his main knocks simply being his caliber of collegiate opponents, watch Gono as a guy who could perhaps knock off an incumbent face. He’d be cap-friendly OL depth.

DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Tuioti-Mariner has an old pal on the Falcons’ defensive line — edge rusher Takk McKinley. The former Bruins teamed up together before Takk was drafted in 2017, and now, they reunite in Atlanta. He had 45 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 2017, and can play on the inside and on the edge. The team has a spot or two open on the defensive line to be filled, so perhaps Tuioti-Mariner and McKinley can play together once again with the Falcons.

OLB Anthony Winbush

Winbush was a sack machine at Ball St. his last year there, notching 11.5 and entering the school’s record book with 25 for his career, tied for the top spot. His insane production should make him a candidate to fill out the team’s pass rushing depth. If he can factor in on special teams, it’d be curious to see if he could translate that season into an NFL career.

ILB Emmanuel Smith

It’s no secret the Falcons need linebacker depth, particularly on the inside. Smith, a former Vanderbilt Commodore, had a productive senior season that was slowed by injury, and has played against SEC competition. If he can show special teams ability, he could compete for the backup job behind Deion Jones. Well, compete might be a strong word. He’s the only pure ILB on the roster at the moment besides Jones, so if things crack the right way and the team doesn’t add any other competition at the spot, the job might already be his.

CB Joseph Putu

Putu, a former Florida Gator, has a powerful story about where he’s come and how he got to be a UDFA for the Falcons. It’s worth a read, and it’ll be hard not to root for Putu to at least latch on with the team’s practice squad. Plus, the last Gator UDFA CB was Brian Poole, who has become an integral part to the defense.

S Chris Lammons, S Secdrick Cooper

Lammons, a former South Carolina player, and Cooper, who hails from Louisiana Tech, could compete for backup roles at safety for the Falcons. While a guy like Quincy Mauger probably has the leg up to backup Keanu Neal, if Lammons or Cooper impress in camp and show special teams prowess, there could be potential there.

So, that’s what I’ve got for the UDFAs to keep an eye on. You can check out the full list of guys here, and hey, any one of those names could be our next UDFA success story. You just never can know....