clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Falcons 53-man roster projection: Dead Zone Edition

New, comments

We attempt to fill the void of news in the NFL dead period with Kevin’s second attempt at predicting the 53-man roster and practice squad. How does the addition of Ron Parker affect things?

Divisional Round - Atlanta Falcons v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

In the midst of the “dead period”—the dreaded month of the NFL calendar between OTAs and the onset of training camp—now seems like the perfect time to revisit my 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!). You may recall I completed a “way-too-early” version a few weeks back, but with the team’s most recent moves it makes sense to update it.

There aren’t a ton of changes in this version—after all, we haven’t seen or heard much about the majority of these players through the pads-free practices of OTAs and minicamp—but there are a few, particularly on the practice squad. Take a look at my current projection below, and definitely don’t bookmark this page so you can call me out when I’m inevitably horribly wrong about something.


OFFENSE - 26

QB - 3

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub
QB Kurt Benkert

No changes here from the first edition, and there aren’t likely to be any unless another QB steps up in the preseason or the Falcons indicate that they’re only keeping two guys on the roster. We all know what we have in Ryan, but Schaub is getting older and hasn’t been particularly impressive in preseason. Benkert has great natural ability, but still has a way to go as a processor. He’s an intriguing developmental QB—hopefully, he can show enough growth to snatch the QB2 job away from Schaub in 2019.

RB - 3

RB Devonta Freeman
RB Tevin Coleman
RB Ito Smith

Again, no changes. The duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman remains one of the most potent in the NFL. Ito Smith is a talented rookie who should carve out a role on third downs and special teams. He’ll likely be expected to take over at RB2 in the event of an injury, or when Coleman departs in free agency next season.

FB - 1

FB Ricky Ortiz

The first change from the first edition of this roster projection. I still like Luke McNitt, but Ortiz is just a bit more talented and proven as a FB. There’s a solid chance that either McNitt or Marx could eventually prove themselves better than Ortiz—who is probably an upgrade over Derrick Coleman but not a huge one—but I think the team is likely to go with the safest option.

WR - 6

WR Julio Jones
WR Mohamed Sanu
WR Calvin Ridley
WR Justin Hardy
WR Marvin Hall
WR Russell Gage

No change here until we see some information from training camp. The top four of Julio, Sanu, Ridley, and Hardy are pretty much settled. That leaves just two spots for the other six WRs to fight over. Hall made his way to the roster in 2017 and had a pretty impressive TD to his name—I think he’s got a better rapport with Ryan than the others at this point. Gage has the benefit of being a phenomenal special teams player and a draft pick. Even if he isn’t much of a WR at this point, Gage probably has enough special teams value to hold that sixth receiver spot.

TE - 3

TE Austin Hooper
TE Logan Paulsen
TE Eric Saubert

A position with a lot to prove in 2018. Hooper could take the next step into becoming an above-average TE1, or he could continue to be an interesting but unspectacular safety valve for Ryan. Paulsen is a very good blocker, but won’t catch many passes. Saubert is the wild card—he’s a great athlete with excellent tools, but the game was clearly too fast for him in 2017. With a year of seasoning, hopefully he’s ready to contribute as a rotational TE.

OL - 10

LT Jake Matthews
LG Andy Levitre
C Alex Mack
RG Brandon Fusco
RT Ryan Schraeder

C/G Ben Garland
G Wes Schweitzer
G Sean Harlow
T Austin Pasztor
T Ty Sambrailo

No change here, at least until someone begins to separate themselves from the pack. The addition of Brandon Fusco hasn’t generated much buzz thus far, but could be a major upgrade over the inconsistent Wes Schweizter. The Falcons are also fairly well off with their depth—Garland and Schweitzer can both start in a pinch without causing catastrophic damage to the offense, and Harlow is a talented mystery.

A big question remains at swing tackle, where the battle between solid veteran Austin Pasztor and the high variance of Ty Sambrailo is likely to be a major one. My money remains on Pasztor, who is dependable as a spot starter—but the team clearly likes Sambrailo and will give him every opportunity to earn the job. At the end of the day, the team is probably going to keep both of them on the active roster.


DEFENSE - 24

EDGE - 5

EDGE Vic Beasley
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
EDGE Brooks Reed
EDGE Derrick Shelby
EDGE J’Terius Jones

I’m still fairly confident in how the EDGE group will shake out. Beasley, McKinley, and Reed form a pretty solid 3-man rotation—and if Beasley can return to his 2016 form, they could be downright scary. Shelby will likely play some on the inside too, but he’s still the team’s best run stuffer on the edge. J’Terius Jones impressed in the 2017 preseason as a pass rusher, and I believe the team will give him every opportunity to earn a spot on the final roster.

DT - 4

DT Grady Jarrett
DT Jack Crawford
DT Terrell McClain
DT Deadrin Senat

The DT rotation is going to look very different in 2018. Jarrett is still likely to dominate the snaps in both the base defense and the nickel, and the hope is that he can continue to develop into a true difference maker. Crawford is likely to assume the “Adrian Clayborn” role of inside-outside pass rusher, and seem likely to be the primary 3T in nickel. McClain is a good veteran run defender, and should form a very effective base-package duo next to rookie NT Deadrin Senat—who could also have some untapped potential as a pass rusher.

LB - 5

LB Deion Jones
LB De’Vondre Campbell
LB Duke Riley
LB Kemal Ishmael
LB Foye Oluokun

The LB group is virtually unchanged from 2017 outside of rookie addition Foye Oluokun. Jones and Campbell remain one of the best young LB duos in the league. Riley had a disappointing rookie season plagued with mistakes and missed tackles, but Quinn has been hyping up his offseason. Riley taking on a larger role at WLB and allowing Campbell to spend more time at SLB could make a significant difference. Ishmael returns as a solid rotational LB and special teams contributor. Oluokun is an unknown, but he’s athletic and dangerous on special teams.

CB - 6

CB Desmond Trufant
CB Robert Alford
CB Brian Poole
CB Isaiah Oliver
CB Justin Bethel
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

Arguably the strongest position on the roster, assuming Oliver performs well this season. The quartet of Trufant, Alford, Poole, and Oliver is insanely talented and versatile. Between those four players, the Falcons can match up with anyone. Bethel is among the NFL’s best special teamers, and can play some CB in a pinch. Wreh-Wilson performed admirably when called upon in 2017, and offers a steady veteran option should injuries strike.

S - 4

S Keanu Neal
S Ricardo Allen
S Ron Parker
S Damontae Kazee

Safety just got a lot more interesting with the late addition of Ron Parker—formerly of the Chiefs—last week. We know that Neal and Ricardo Allen will be holding down the starting positions, but this latest move by the Falcons opens the door for more three safety “big nickel” sets. Parker is much more of a FS-type than a back-up to someone like Neal, but the team clearly feels comfortable with their options with Kazee, Poole, and even someone like Kemal Ishmael potentially providing an emergency option at SS.


SPECIAL TEAMS - 3

K Matt Bryant
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris

These three will be our special teams corps forever. At least, they will be in my heart.


PRACTICE SQUAD - 11

TE Alex Gray - This spot will not change since the Falcons received another special International Player practice squad spot in 2018 for TE Alex Gray. He’s not eligible for the 53-man roster this season, but perhaps he’ll turn into something down the road.

C J.C. Hassenauer - With no other news surrounding the OL through minicamp, we’ll have to continue to guess at who might emerge from camp with a practice squad spot. Hassenauer had to play behind guys like Ryan Kelly at Alabama, but he’s a very talented center. The Falcons don’t really have another pure C on the roster, which gives Hassenauer a better chance than most to seize a practice squad spot.

DB Tyson Graham - early word is that Quinn and Manuel love Graham’s versatility—they’ve reportedly played Graham at both CB and S during OTAs and minicamp. He’s officially listed as a safety now, but Graham could be an interesting developmental piece in the Kazee/Allen mold of versatile DBs.

RB Malik Williams - my thoughts haven’t changed much at RB even with Terrence Magee returning. Williams offers something that Magee and Crawford simply don’t: a physical running style. Add in very good receiving ability and I think Williams gets the edge.

DT Jon Cunningham - again, until we start getting real info from camp, I’m not going to change most of my predictions. I think Cunningham is very intriguing as a run defender and potential rotational player down the road.

EDGE Anthony Winbush - same thing here as before. Winbush was a very productive college pass rusher and plays a very similar role to Vic Beasley. He could develop into a future 3rd or 4th pass rusher, as he’s got some pretty impressive natural talent.

T Matt Gono - the Falcons had a lot of interest in Gono as a UDFA, so they’re clearly hoping that he impresses enough to stick around. Whether that’s at guard or tackle, the team is going to have open competitions for reserve players. Gono is a great athlete that simply needs refinement.

WR Reggie Davis - Davis comes in second once again to Marvin Hall, but keeps his role on the practice squad. He needs to continue to impress to stick with the team in 2018, but there could be a real opportunity to carve out a roster spot in 2019 and beyond.

S Secdrick Cooper - with Ron Parker joining the team, the UDFA safeties have been all but pushed off the roster. Blidi Wreh-Wilson as a 6th CB is simply more trustworthy (and proven on the field) than any of these UDFAs, but I think the Falcons are still looking to develop a back-up behind Neal. Cooper is an athlete that can hit, but he’s still a bit raw technically.

LB Emmanuel Smith - Emmanuel Smith certainly has the traits the Falcons like at LB, and he was productive at Vanderbilt. However, he struggled to stay healthy. If he can get his health back on track and make a name for himself in camp, he could win a practice squad spot and a potential future with the team.

TE Jaeden Graham - with Jake Roh cut, I had to find another TE for the Falcons’ practice squad. I haven’t seen much of either Troy Mangen or Graham, but Jaeden is a pretty awesome name so I give him the slight edge.


The Falcons, based on this projection, have a remarkably talented roster from top to bottom. There simply aren’t many weak points on the team. You could point to TE, EDGE, and DT depth and maybe the swing tackle spot as being weaker than the rest of the roster, but that’s not much to complain about. The depth the team does possess in the secondary and WR corps is pretty astouding—both position groups should be right in the mix for the best in the NFL in 2018.

What are your thoughts on this roster projection? Who are some players you see making the roster that I’ve left off? Any surprise veteran cuts that you foresee towards the end of training camp?