We’ll obsessively cover the position and roster battles that are coming up for the Falcons this year, but realistically, most of them will only matter for a handful of snaps a game or in the case of injury. These three position battles have higher stakes, if only slightly, for a gifted roster that has only a handful of holes and question marks heading into the season.
Here are the three I’ve identified, and let me know what positions you think also belong on this list.
On one hand, fullback is far from the most critical position on the roster. On the other hand, we saw last year what happens when you’re trying to lean on the position at critical junctures and the player you’re leaning on isn’t an A+ blocking option.
This year, the Falcons have once again assembled three options to compete, but this time there’s no obvious veteran favorite in line for the job. That leaves Luke McNitt, Daniel Marx and Ricky Ortiz to compete for the job, All three are considered strong blockers, which is really what the Falcons need from the position, and we’ll hope one of them can stand out to the degree that this is an easy decision.
It’s particularly critical this year because there are very few quality veterans on the market at the position. My early pick is Luke McNitt, but this one should be pretty wide open.
The Falcons will rotate heavily, but there’s a nominal starter to be selected next to Grady Jarrett, and we’re not sure who it will be just yet. Jack Crawford is coming back from injury but offers some pass rushing prowess and decent-enough run stopping ability to take on the role, while Terrell McClain is primarily an early down run stuffer who might be able to spring his castmates on the line for sacks on third downs. Third round Deadrin Senat has more potential than either, in my humble opinion, but we’ll have to see whether he hits the ground running.
My guess is that Crawford will wind up getting the largest share of snaps next to Jarrett when all is said and done, but the Falcons are going to use training camp and the preseason to work out their rotation, and I wouldn’t be shocked if any of the three ends up being the nominal starter. Jarrett will dominate snaps next to whoever it may be, but the Falcons need their defensive tackles to be great to ascend to an elite level on defense.
Kick Returner/Punt Returner
Last year, it was fair to say that special teams penalties and some poor return decisions from Andre Roberts proved costly. This year, the Falcons have moved on from Roberts and will now turn to the gig over to a motley collection of young receivers, defensive backs, and running backs with limited return experience at the NFL level.
That sounds a little terrifying, but in this collection of options are players like Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis and Ito Smith who have the speed and athleticism necessary to make people miss. Even as returns become an increasingly less important part of the NFL game, the ability to break a few big returns can only help a team that too often lost the field position battle a year ago.
My money’s currently on Marvin Hall, but as is the case with fullback, it’s awfully hard to feel confident about that this early in the game.