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Falcons 53-man roster projection: Preseason Week 2

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How has the first preseason game affected the battles for the Falcons’ 53-man roster (and practice squad)? We take a closer look in our latest roster projection.

Atlanta Falcons v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After the Falcons first preseason game, we finally have some concrete information on how the team values many of the players on their roster. We saw some exciting performances from a few players (Kurt Benkert, Deadrin Senat) and some rather disappointing ones (Duke Riley). The big question is: how do these performances affect the Falcons’ roster construction?

In this article, I’ll update my 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!) based on my observations from Atlanta’s first preseason game. If you’d like to see these observations, you can find them in this Twitter thread. To view the previous iterations of this projection, you can find the links below:

Read on for my best guess at how the Falcons’ roster shakes out, based on everything we’ve heard and seen thus far.


OFFENSE - 26

QB - 3

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub
QB Kurt Benkert

No change here after the results of the first preseason game, but we did learn a great deal about Benkert’s potential. As many of us had thought from on his college tape, Benkert looks like the best developmental QB prospect the Falcons have had in some time. He proved that he deserves a chance to compete for a roster spot in an impressive debut against the Jets. If he plays that well again, Atlanta will have no choice but to carry him on the roster.

RB - 4

RB Devonta Freeman
RB Tevin Coleman
RB Ito Smith
RB Malik Williams

No change in the top three RBs, and I doubt there will be. Ito Smith had a bit of a slow start in the preseason, but the run blocking he received was bad and he didn’t have much of a chance to show off his receiving skills. Meanwhile, Malik Williams looked quite capable as both a physical, downhill runner and a smooth receiver. The Falcons don’t need to keep 4 RBs on the roster, but they will strongly consider it since Tevin Coleman is likely to be gone in 2019.

FB - 1

FB Ricky Ortiz

After Ricky Ortiz was signed, I thought he might have a leg up in the FB battle due to his experience in the NFL. Based on snap counts and how both he and McNitt played on Friday, Ortiz seems to be the clear frontrunner at this point. He showed off very good blocking chops as a run and pass protector, and looked quick enough to be a usable piece in the passing game.

TE - 3

TE Austin Hooper
TE Eric Saubert
TE Logan Paulsen

No change in the TE group, and I seriously doubt there will be going forward. Saubert had a pair of catches just before halftime, but I’d like to see if all the hype he’s generated in training camp translates to a significant role for him. Paulsen looked as advertised: a skilled blocker that can occasionally catch a short pass or two when needed.

WR - 6

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

While there’s no change in this group, there are some things worth mentioning. Marvin Hall was a factor throughout the evening, getting the first crack at return duties (and looking the best there, I might add) as well as getting work with the first team offense. It seems like he’s established himself as the heavy favorite for the WR5 spot. Russell Gage wasn’t involved in the offense on Friday, but I still believe his special teams talents will secure him a roster spot.

OL - 9

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

With Ty Sambrailo’s injury, the Falcons might have all the excuse they need to insert Pasztor as the swing tackle. Pasztor wasn’t great on Friday, but outside of the penalties he looked like the “best of the rest” of the tackle prospects the Falcons have. Pasztor needs to show some improvement over the next few games, but if he does the team might feel comfortable moving on from Sambrailo. I still think it’s unlikely the team parts ways with Sean Harlow, but he’s clearly buried on the depth chart at this point behind Fusco, Garland, and Schweitzer.


DEFENSE - 24

EDGE - 5

EDGE Vic Beasley
EDGE Takkarist McKinley
EDGE Brooks Reed
EDGE Derrick Shelby
EDGE J.T. Jones

There aren’t any changes in the defensive personnel from my last projection, but we do finally have some real data on these players. Beasley and Takk looked great in the first team defense. Reed and Shelby continued to look good in the base package. J.T. Jones got a ton of snaps throughout the evening, both as an edge defender and as a strongside LB. You can tell he’s very raw as a stand-up player—he made several notable gaffes in coverage—but the team clearly thinks he’s versatile enough to provide depth at that position.

DT - 4

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

We didn’t get much of a look at Jarrett, Crawford, or McClain on Friday, but we did see rookie Deadrin Senat get a lot of work throughout the game. Senat was very impressive, pushing the line of scrimmage and creating havoc in the running game. He even added a few TFLs to his stat line. It’s still too early to tell if this cobbled-together DT group will be a strength for the Falcons, but with Senat looking like a potential early contributor, it’s hard to see it as a liability in 2018.

LB - 5

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

No change here—so far. Deion and De’Vondre played their usual brand of excellent football. Duke Riley, however, had an awful game that has caused a considerable fan backlash. It seems obvious to me from the way he played and his facial expressions that he has some sort of confidence issue. I sincerely hope Quinn can get it worked out, as he has a lot of talent. Meanwhile, Foye Oluokun had a nice debut where he showed off his skills as a run defender and coverage player.

CB - 6

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

We barely saw any of the top three CBs outside of a single series, but the other guys fighting for roster spots got plenty of work. Oliver had a bit of an up-and-down game, providing solid coverage downfield while struggling to cover crossing routes against quicker WRs. Blidi Wreh-Wilson continues to look like the best reserve CB on the roster, and I think the team would be silly to let him get away. Justin Bethel had an awful game in coverage, getting worked over repeatedly by Neal Sterling and Charles Johnson of the Jets. Let’s hope he only has to play special teams during the regular season.

S - 4

FS Ricardo Allen
SS Keanu Neal

S Damontae Kazee
S Ron Parker

No change in the construction of the safety group, but wow did Damontae Kazee have a hell of a game. He was all over the field in both coverage and run support, having by far the best night of anyone on the team. The Falcons also showed that they’re going to use him creatively, as he spent time at deep safety, box safety, and at nickel CB throughout the game. Ron Parker struggled a bit in his first game as a Falcon, but a lot of those errors seemed like communication issues. I expect that he’ll get more settled over the course of the preseason.


SPECIALISTS - 3

K Matt Bryant
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris

This specialist group will hopefully be together for a long time yet. Matt Bryant hasn’t practiced in the last week after suffering an undisclosed injury, but there is a good chance that he’s back for this week’s match-up against the Chiefs. Bosher looked to be in midseason form, delivering several excellent punts against the Jets. Josh Harris is as solid as ever, and it’s always nice to see him sprinting down the field trying to make special teams tackles.


PRACTICE SQUAD - 11

TE Alex Gray - The Falcons have a special exemption for Alex Gray through the NFL’s international player program. He didn’t see much work during Friday’s game against the Jets.

C J.C. Hassenauer - Hassenauer didn’t see the field until the fourth quarter for the Falcons, but looked solid when he did. With Atlanta lacking a back-up center outside of the versatile Ben Garland, Hassenauer is likely to stick around on the practice squad.

DB Tyson Graham - Graham had an up-and-down performance against the Jets, but he made enough plays to have us take notice. Quinn has praised Graham for his CB/S versatility, and I think he’s a player the Falcons would like to develop.

DT Jon Cunningham - By far the most impressive of the “other” DTs on the roster, Cunningham was a force against the run during his debut with the team. Expect him to get more work with the 2nd string going forward.

DT/EDGE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner - Tuioti-Mariner didn’t make a ton of plays against the Jets, but he’s got the inside/outside versatility that Quinn covets. He’s a developmental player that might have some untapped upside in the future.

EDGE Anthony Winbush - Winbush got on the field with the 2s, but didn’t make a huge impact in his first preseason action. I liked his hustle and his pass rushing chops, and I still think he’s a favorite for the practice squad.

LB Jonathan Celestin - Talk about a player that came out of nowhere. Celestin signed with the team after training camp opened—putting him at a disadvantage against the UDFAs that had been around since rookie minicamp. That didn’t matter, as Celestin was by far the most impressive of the depth LBs, putting up a sack and several impressive plays in run support.

RB Justin Crawford - With the Falcons keeping 4 RBs on the roster, they don’t necessarily need to keep another on the practice squad. Still, I think Crawford and Malik Williams are both talented players that the team will want to keep around—particularly with Coleman likely leaving in 2019. Crawford had some nice plays in his debut, even though Williams was a bit more impressive. This will be a fun battle to monitor throughout the preseason.

T Matt Gono - Gono had his struggles during the game against the Jets, but it’s clear that the Falcons value him. He played with the second string and continued deep into the second half. He’s a developmental prospect at tackle that has all the physical tools you desire.

WR Devin Gray - The most impressive offensive player during Friday’s game—perhaps tied with Kurt Benkert—Devin Gray showed off great hands, route running, and downfield speed. It’ll be difficult for him to make the 53-man roster, but he has a chance to replace Justin Hardy in 2019 if he continues to impress.

K David Marvin - This is more of a reactionary move due to Matt Bryant’s injury. It’s still unclear what it was, and whether or not it will affect Bryant going forward. If the team has any concern at all, we’ll likely see them keep someone like Marvin close at hand. Don’t hold the missed kick at the end of the game against him, as that play was doomed from the start.


As you can see, there wasn’t too much movement on the 53-man roster after the first preseason game. Instead, we mostly got clarity on where many of the players stand in the eyes of the Falcons. Marvin Hall, for instance, looks to have a pretty safe roster spot due to his early use with the starting offense and his special teams value as a returner and a coverage player.

At other positions, there are still quite a few question marks. How will the LB depth chart shake out if Duke Riley continues to struggle? Is there a real battle at FB, or is Ortiz the heavy favorite? Will the Falcons keep three QBs if Benkert continues to impress? Can Russell Gage make the roster without contributing on offense?

These are all important questions to ask, but the roster as a whole still appears very strong. Hopefully, the offense can show us a little bit more during the second preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

What are your thoughts on my 53-man roster projection? Any players that you would’ve slotted differently? Who are some of the players you’d like to see maker the roster and/or practice squad?