Believe it or not, we are just 17 days away from the beginning of training camp, including today. That means we’ll soon have real things happening at real practices to discuss, and I personally could not be more excited about that.
In preparation for that, we’re going to start running down some of the story lines we’ll be watching ahead of camp, starting with this look ahead to 17 players from this 90 man roster that you’ll want to keep a very close eye on. As always, we welcome your suggestions for anyone we may have missed.
- QB Kurt Benkert: The rookie has a big arm and some real upside, and it’ll be worth seeing if he can grab a practice squad spot or steal a roster spot outright.
- RB Ito Smith: There are a couple of interesting undrafted free agents lurking in the margins here, so the Falcons will want to see something out of the 2018 fourth rounder. They do not want to waste a pick the way they did with Brian Hill.
- FB Luke McNitt: The early favorite for the fullback gig, McNitt is a physical and confident blocker who paved the way for the Nebraska ground game. He’s my pick to win the job and should be watched closely along with competitors Daniel Marx and Ricky Ortiz.
- WR Calvin Ridley: Everyone’s going to be watching Ridley. He’s got a reputation as an advanced route runner and figures to get plenty of snaps in his rookie season, and the better he looks early, the more confident we can be in his chances of impacting the passing game early.
- WR Marvin Hall: There were flashes last year for Hall, who is the leading candidate to be the team’s fifth receiver in 2018 and could push for one of the returner gigs. There are a ton of competitors for that last spot, as there are every year, so it’ll be worth watching Hall to see if he can hold everyone off.
- TE Eric Saubert: The ultra-athletic second year tight end was in mothballs most of the 2017 season, but has drawn early praise for his work ethic and improvement. He has the talent to be a factor in the passing game, particularly in the red zone.
- T Ty Sambrailo: The presumptive swing tackle had decent moments but didn’t look like an inspiring option a year ago, and needs to show more heading into his second season.
- G Sean Harlow: Will he even make the roster? The athletic guard could be a factor down the line for an Atlanta team set to lose two veterans in 2019, but only if he survives this offseason.
- DE Takkarist McKinley: The Falcons are counting on McKinley to be excellent and to soak up a ton of snaps, and we’ll want to see improvement in camp after a quietly very good 2017.
- DE J’Terius Jones: The Falcons have a four man rotation at defensive end, but if they want to carry five players and give themselves a little more depth, Jones is the presumptive frontrunner. He flashed last summer at times and ended up spending the entire 2017 season with Atlanta, so he’s got a decent shot if the Falcons build their roster with five ends.
- DT Deadrin Senat: The rookie defensive tackle is strong as hell and was productive in college. How early will it translate over to the NFL?
- DT Jack Crawford: Is he fully healthy? If so, Crawford should be in line for a large number of snaps on third downs and obvious passing downs as a complement to Grady Jarrett.
- LB Duke Riley: He’s blazing fast and looked quite good at LSU at times, but he’s fresh off a disappointing 2017 season. The Falcons will be looking for Riley to step up and give them an interesting third option at the linebacker position.
- CB Isaiah Oliver: A stellar college cornerback with the length Dan Quinn covets, Oliver should start outside opposite Desmond Trufant in nickel sets, with Robert Alford kicking inside. He just needs to show he’s ready for the responsibility with a strong summer.
- CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson: Last year’s biggest surprise at the position, Wreh-Wilson played well enough to get C.J. Goodwin booted off the roster a year ago, and is probably a better corner than Justin Bethel. Can he make a strong case for a sixth cornerback gig or even shock and beat out Bethel?
- S Damontae Kazee: The second year safety and cornerback showed well in his limited 2017 action and figures to get time at multiple positions this summer. If he shows well, he might find himself earning playing time as a sort of a super sub.
- S Ron Parker: I was stunned when the Falcons got Parker in late June, given that he’s been a consistent starter for years now. Coming off his worst year in a while, will Parker prove to be a compelling third safety option for the Falcons?
Share your picks to add to this list.