Believe it or not, but we’re juuuust over a week away from the start of training camp. As we gear up, one of the most exciting things to watch will be the newest additions to the team, those who just joined through the draft or free agency and will be competing for roles large and small with the team this summer.
With that in mind, here are eight new Falcons to keep an eye on in July, August and beyond.
RB Ito Smith
No matter what the team says about Smith’s fortunes and keeping the band together at running back, he’s the odds-on favorite to become the team’s #2 back in 2019. Tevin Coleman isn’t likely to come cheap once he hits free agency next year, and the Falcons aren’t exactly going to be flush with cap space next year and beyond.
So it’ll be interesting to see how Smith fares early and how much of a role he can carve out in his first season. The Falcons will keep expectations and snap counts fairly low for the promising young back, but if he can show the kind of rushing and pass catching prowess he did in college, he’ll step right in for Coleman a year from now.
WR Calvin Ridley
Ridley’s not going to push out Mohamed Sanu this year, and it’s possible he’ll still be sharing a field with his veteran counterpart next season. But he’s the future of the receiver position, even so, and he could be a major asset as soon as this year given the level of refinement to his game. You’ll want to watch Ridley to see if he’s as ready as advertised this summer, and to see if he can carry that over to the regular season.
WR Russell Gage
The Falcons have tinkered with Gage at cornerback and receiver, and it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll actually wind up. The team has more advanced talent at receiver with Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis lined up there, but Justin Hardy’s contract is up a year from now and Gage has the deep speed to be a problem. At cornerback, meanwhile, the Falcons have their top three locked in but will confront a 2019 season without Brian Poole, Justin Bethel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson if none of those men re-sign. Watch to see where Gage plays, as it’ll be a sign for where he’ll end up a year from now, even if his 2018 should be limited purely to special teams.
G Brandon Fusco
The veteran guard has been pretty good throughout his career, and he’ll be asked to be pretty good in Atlanta as the team’s presumptive starting right guard. If he can’t create a lot of distance between himself and Wes Schweitzer this summer, however, he may wind up making Atlanta his home for only a short time. I’ll be looking to see the run blocking that is supposed to make him a significant upgrade over last season’s incumbent.
DT Garrison Smith
The door is open for a player like Smith, given that the Falcons have eight players locked into roster spots along the defensive line but no settled depth beyond that. If the former Seahawk can enjoy a strong summer, he could latch on as the ninth player. It’s not a very exciting role, but the Falcons will need additional depth in case injuries or poor performance strike up front.
LB Foye Oluokun
One of my favorite players from this draft class, Oluokun has the athleticism and smarts to be an immediate asset on special teams, and the upside to be a plus reserve for Atlanta down the line. Kemal Ishmael’s on yet another one year deal and Duke Riley has to prove he’s a long-term solution at the position, so Oluokun may carve out some real opportunity for himself earlier than later.
CB Isaiah Oliver
We’ve hyped up the second rounder enough, I think, but he should be pretty good immediately. The only question is how well he’ll hit the ground running, and what role he’ll be stepping into in his first season. If he performs well this summer I fully expect him to play outside opposite Desmond Trufant in nickel sets, which means a lot of playing time.
S Ron Parker
There’s a little bit of mystery surrounding Parker, a starting-caliber safety who Atlanta landed for cheap. He seems exceedingly unlikely to actually earn a starting spot, but he should find snaps as a reserve and special teamer right out of the gate. If he’s looking good this summer and the Falcons are willing to trot out more three safety sets, Parker could walk into a larger role.
What other new additions do you have your eye on?