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Falcons 53-man roster projection: Preseason Week 3

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How has the Chiefs’ game affected the Falcons’ roster battles? We take a closer look by projecting the full 53-man roster and practice squad.

Kansas City Chiefs v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

We’re all done with the Kansas City Chiefs and the second week of preseason. It’s now full steam ahead into preparation for the “dress rehearsal” against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Saturday’s game should be a perfect test for the offense against one of the NFL’s premier pass defenses, and a chance for the Falcons’ defense to prove themselves against a strong running game but a shaky QB.

If you’d like to see the previous iterations of this projection, you can find them here:

There were a lot of interesting takeaways from the Chiefs’ game. Let’s take a closer look at how the second week of preseason affected my 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!) for the Falcons.

OFFENSE - 26

QB - 2

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub

Ryan looked lights out in brief action against the Chiefs’ defense. He should be penciled in for a better year statistically, assuming Sark’s playcalling is also improved. Schaub showed why the Falcons have kept him around all these years: he’s solid and has a good command of the offense. With Benkert disappointing in his second preseason outing, it may be safer than previously thought to move the young QB to the practice squad.

RB - 4

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

Freeman didn’t play, but that didn’t make much difference for the offense outside of some short yardage situations. Tevin Coleman looked phenomenal—he’s truly a great fit in the offense and offers a lot in the passing game. Ito Smith had a middling performance, but looked improved from a shaky debut against the Jets. Malik Williams remains the most impressive reserve RB, despite the team giving Justin Crawford more reps with the 2s. This is a battle that could go down to the wire.

FB - 1

FB Ricky Ortiz

Ricky Ortiz was clearly the better FB option after two weeks of preseason play. He threw several good blocks in the running game and in pass protection, and showed off his hands on two receptions. The Falcons bid goodbye to Luke McNitt and brought in the recently-cut Jalston Fowler to compete with Ortiz. Fowler has legitimate talent, but has struggled with injuries throughout his career.

TE - 3

TE Austin Hooper
TE Eric Saubert
TE Logan Paulsen

Both Austin Hooper and Eric Saubert looked like dangerous receiving options at TE. Hooper provides a reliable, short-to-intermediate target, while Saubert can stretch the defense and generate some yards-after-catch. Paulsen remains the best blocker, and he’ll certainly factor in heavily on early downs.

WR - 6

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

No change in the names, but a change in the order has arrived. Marvin Hall appears to have seized control of the WR4 job from Justin Hardy, and is still the favorite to be the team’s returner. Calvin Ridley looked great in his second preseason performance, showing instant chemistry with Ryan and putting on a show with his route running. Gage had a nice contested catch as well, showing that he can contribute on offense if called upon.

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 Ty Sambrailo
T Matt Gono

A significant shake-up in the offensive line make-up...at the very bottom of the depth chart. It seems that Brandon Fusco has either officially won the starting RG spot, or is at least poised to win the starting role following the third preseason game. That’s good news, as Fusco has looked more poised than Schweitzer in their work with the first team.

Garland is dealing with an injury, which should give more work to Schweitzer, Harlow, and Jamil Douglas—who has been quietly decent at C. As much as I wanted Pasztor to return to his pre-injury form, he seems to be the weakest of the tackle options currently on the roster. Sambrailo hasn’t been significantly better, but the team has invested draft capital in him. Matt Gono is the most intriguing of the bunch—he’s legitimately looked like the best reserve tackle thus far. He’s currently the “at-large” favorite for the final roster spot.


DEFENSE - 24

EDGE - 5

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

No change in this group, but J.T. Jones’ job is nowhere near secure. Beasley and Takk have looked good, while Reed and Shelby have done good work in the base package. Jones has been playing a new position in addition to his usual work at EDGE and still looks quite raw there, but the team clearly thinks he could have a future at SAM. Anthony Winbush could easily end up winning this spot if he has a more impressive finish to the preseason.

DT - 4

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

We’ve seen good things from Jarrett, McClain, and especially Deadrin Senat through the first two preseason games. Crawford has gotten work in the nickel, but has had a relatively quiet start. Overall, this unit looks strong against the run—but the interior pass rush is a question mark until someone proves they can generate pressure opposite Grady Jarrett.

LB - 5

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

Jonathan Celestin continues to impress against deep reserves, but I’m not sure that will be enough to earn him a roster spot. Campbell and Oluokun have been the early risers, but Riley looked much more settled against Kansas City. Ishmael has been a solid, if unspectacular, contributor with the second team. Oluokun and Riley got plenty of snaps with the starters, and this battle for the starting WILL role is set to continue against the Jaguars.

CB - 6

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

The starters looked good and the reserves looked shaky against the Chiefs. It’s going to be hard to keep Poole off the field, as his open-field tackling ability is such a boon to the defense as a whole. Blidi Wreh-Wilson might be the third-best cover CB on the roster at this point, and I think he’s secured his roster spot with a strong preseason performance. Isaiah Oliver has had his rookie struggles, but I still expect him to get some snaps in “match-up” situations against bigger WRs—perhaps against Devin Funchess in Week 2. Bethel has been a disaster in coverage, but he’s here to play special teams.

S - 4

SS Keanu Neal
FS Ricardo Allen

S Damontae Kazee
S Ron Parker

The Falcons safety group looks absurdly strong. Neal and Allen are potential Pro Bowl-caliber players, and Damontae Kazee has been the highest-rated CB in the preseason. Atlanta will have a hard time keeping Kazee off the field, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him getting snaps as the nickel CB/big nickel S to start the season. Ron Parker has played very little in the preseason, but he’s a steady veteran that provides starting-caliber depth.


SPECIAL TEAMS - 3

K Matt Bryant
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris

We’ve yet to see Matt Bryant in the preseason, but he should be back for Saturday’s game against Jacksonville. Bosher has been great thus far, with some fantastic punts and well-placed kickoffs. He’s an under-appreciated weapon for this team. Josh Harris continues to be his solid, mistake-free self, and you gotta love his hustle on coverage units.


PRACTICE SQUAD - 11

TE Alex Gray - International Exemption player. Gray hasn’t gotten much work in the preseason, but the Falcons get to carry him for “free” through the NFL’s International Player Program.

C/G Jamil Douglas - It’s unclear to me if Douglas is available to join the practice squad (this will be his third season in the NFL), but if he is available he’s got a spot almost locked up. The Falcons have tried Douglas at C, where he’s looked solid at times. The team has no true back-up C behind Alex Mack, so keeping someone like Douglas close by makes sense.

DB Tyson Graham - Graham has been up-and-down this preseason, but he’s had the most positive plays of any of the CB/S prospects the Falcons have brought in. Quinn loves versatile players, and Graham is yet another in the CB/S hybrid mold.

EDGE Anthony Winbush - Winbush and J.T. Jones will likely be battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, with the loser given a practice squad spot. Jones has the edge due to his experience with the team, but Winbush is close behind him. I wouldn’t be shocked if the players switch places by the end of the preseason.

DT Jon Cunningham - Cunningham wasn’t quite as impressive in his second preseason outing, but once against showed off good power and penetration ability against the run. I like his long-term potential as a base package 3T.

DT Justin Zimmer - an athletic marvel (4.85-forty, 33.5 in. vertical, 7.01 3-cone, 9ft 9in broad) at 300 pounds, the small school standout Justin Zimmer simply hasn’t put it all together yet. He had an encouraging performance against the Chiefs, which could convince the Falcons to keep him around as a developmental lineman. A potential weight drop into the 285-range could position Zimmer for the DE/DT hybrid role that the Falcons love.

LB Jonathan Celestin - by far the most impressive of the UDFA LBs, Celestin had another good game against Kansas City. He’s looked solid as a tackler, had some good moments in coverage, and picked up a sack on a blitz against the Jets. Celestin isn’t on the athletic level of the Falcons starters, but he’s a solid player that could provide Kemal Ishmael-level depth down the road.

QB Kurt Benkert - Benkert’s less than inspiring second performance might have the beneficial side-effect of making him “safe” to stash on the practice squad. It obviously carries some element of risk, but unless Benkert blows it up in the remaining two preseason games, he’s likely going to be just fine sitting on the squad for a year.

RB Justin Crawford - I think the Falcons like Malik Williams and Justin Crawford enough to keep both around—particularly with the specter of Tevin Coleman’s potential exodus in 2019 on their minds. We’ve also seen that RB injuries come fast and without warning in the NFL, and having some extra players close at hand is never a bad thing.

TE Troy Mangen - Mangen has been the “best of the rest” of the TEs, which isn’t really saying much. He’s looked serviceable and has been called upon to block frequently. With the Falcons keeping only 3 TEs, it seems likely that they’ll keep an extra body on the practice squad. We could also easily see the team go with a veteran option if injuries should strike.

WR Devin Gray - with Benkert struggling, Gray and the other UDFA receivers didn’t get to put on a show like they did against the Jets. Gray, Reggie Davis, and Dontez Byrd have been the standouts thus far, but I’ll still give the edge to Gray on the strength of his performance against the Jets.


As you can see, there weren’t many changes to the 53-man roster after the second preseason game—though that’s mostly the product of the Falcons having almost every starting battle settled at this point. The poor performance by Benkert may actually be a blessing in disguise, giving the Falcons the flexibility to stash him on the practice squad. In his place, the team is able to keep the intriguing Matt Gono—who has been the best reserve tackle on the roster. Meanwhile, the defense stays essentially the same, with the battle between J.T. Jones and Anthony Winbush providing the biggest potential for a shake-up.

The third preseason game will set much of the roster in stone, but the battles for the practice squad likely won’t be fully decided until after the fourth contest against the Dolphins. What are your takeaways on this projection of the Falcons’ roster? Any players you’d move around? Who are some UDFAs or low-key FA additions that have impressed you thus far?