Let’s break down five key position battles with predictions for the winners, and who will find themselves with smaller roles or without a job.
1. Fullback position
Primarily, this competition is between Luke McNitt, Daniel Marx, and Ricky Ortiz. In a FB, the Falcons want versatility. In my eyes, Marx is that guy. Although McNitt was more of a productive rusher at Nebraska, Marx stands out to me as the prototypical Falcons fullback. Marx has experience blocking for great talent like Christian McCaffrey and 2019 NFL Draft prospect and heisman hopeful Bryce Love. Watching film, this guy reminds me of Ovie Mughelli, who held his ground as a Falcons fullback from 2007-2011.
My winner here is Daniel Marx.
2. Cornerback position
I’ve heard lots of speculation here. Jerome Henderson, Falcons defensive passing game coordinator will keep a keen eye on sets this year, but this is how I imagine the rotation near the end of the season: Robert Alford will probably end up kicking inside to play slot CB and Isaiah Oliver will play OCB with Desmond Trufant in most of the team’s nickel packages.
Brian Poole and Damontae Kazee will most likely end up fighting for depth at safety or nickel corner. In the nickel formation, I see Trufant, Alford, and Oliver. This is a huge season for Brian Poole, because if he disappoints, Damontae Kazee will be right there to compete for his spot.
3. Backup Quarterback
In spite of Matt Ryan’s five year extension, it’s time we look for a feasible long-term backup. I simply don’t believe Matt Schaub is that guy.
Being 37 years old equates to being unreliable unless you were a great QB to begin with, and the Falcons should get a taste of either Kurt Benkert or Garrett Grayson. It’s up to the Falcons whether they want experience or potential. I’d like to believe the answer is potential, because, well, Matt Ryan is no rook. I’m stuck here, and although I don’t agree with Schaub at QB2, I anticipate that’s how it’ll go down regardless.
4. Weakside Linebacker
This competition comes down to Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael and Foye Oluokun. Here’s the thing. With no disrespect intended, last year, Duke Riley’s instincts were extremely subpar and Kemal Ishmael isn’t very fast. To me, Ishmael is more of a special teams guy.
To begin with, I anticipate Riley will have the spot, but perhaps later on, if Riley continues to struggle, I see Oluokun stepping in Riley’s relief. This is a bold take for a 6th rounder, but he fits the fast and physical criteria very well and impressed early. As a fan and a writer, I sure hope to write about a successful turn-around season later on for Riley, but if not, it’s Foye’s turn.
5. Fourth Wide Receiver
In the Falcons offensive scheme, every receiver matters. The Falcons may even take seven receivers as a part of their 53-man roster.
The fourth spot will ultimately come down to Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall or Reggie Davis. Hardy has the great hands, Hall has the speed, and Davis has the agility. Hardy will most likely end up the fourth receiver on the depth chart, but Marvin Hall is more of a polished player than Davis. Hardy, being more experienced, is the most polished out of the four. Despite his embarrassing play this season, I could see Marvin Hall taking Reggie’s spot in the depth chart, but ultimately, Justin Hardy should be the guy listed behind Calvin Ridley at the four spot.