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Breaking down the Falcons position battles heading into the final week of preseason

Here’s what you need to know about the battles set to be resolved this week.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have roster and position battles that still have not been settled, though they soon will be. Before Atlanta settles this with their series of roster cuts coming this Friday and/or Saturday, here are updates on what we’ve seen to this point for some of the biggest battles on the roster.


Ricky Ortiz was a bit banged up heading into this one, but he still out-snapped Jalston Fowler, and seems to be in the driver’s seat for the fullback job. Unless the team secretly likes Fowler more than they’re letting on, or if he blows Ortiz out of the water in Week 4, I think the former undrafted free agent is headed for the starting job.

As a plus athlete for the position with some pass catching ability and solid blocking chops, he’s a good choice. I just hope he’ll continue to play well into the regular season.

Wide receiver

With Marvin Hall sitting out, the Falcons gave plenty of time to roster hopefuls. Russell Gage looked good and should be set because of his special teams value, while Reggie Davis and Dontez Byrd both showed off their speed at the position against the Jaguars.

I’m still on record saying that I anticipate the Falcons will keep six receivers, with Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall and Russell Gage grabbing those spots. I don’t think we’ve seen anything to dissuade me from thinking that.

Swing tackle

Ty Sambrailo was the swing tackle last year, and based on usage, I don’t think anyone’s necessarily knocking him off. Matt Gono is the most legitimate candidate at the moment, given his fine play a week ago during extended snaps, but he’ll likely need to be great in Week 4 to make the Falcons seriously consider pushing Sambrailo off the roster. Gono should be ticketed for a practice squad spot, however.


The Falcons might have one additional guard spot behind Andy Levitre, Brandon Fusco, and Wes Schweitzer, though Ben Garland is perfectly capable of playing the position as well. Jamil Douglas has versatility and has had a fine summer, while Sean Harlow was a 2017 fourth round pick who was mothballed all last year but has looked pretty good in his own right during preseason games.

I don’t think the Falcons have decided this one, or even if they’re going to keep that many offensive linemen. I’d still consider Harlow in the driver’s seat if they do.

Defensive ends

I don’t think anyone has stood out enough to grab a potential fifth defensive end spot, if we’re being honest. J’Terius Jones is the strongest candidate and got plenty of playing time in Week 3, but unless I missed something watching the game live, he didn’t put together an impressive enough performance to vault onto the roster. The Falcons could gamble on his upside or they could go searching on the waiver wire after cuts come in, and right now, I’d bet on the latter.

Defensive tackle

The Falcons have two legitimate candidates for a fifth defensive tackle spot, however. Garrison Smith has been stone solid and is a strong run stopper, while UDFA Justin Zimmer has shown more as a pass rusher over the last couple of weeks. One will likely hit the practice squad, but it’ll depend on what kind of skill set the Falcons want at the position. Zimmer’s pass rushing upside in a group of players that could use a little more might actually vault him ahead of Smith.


The Falcons have four or five guys locked in, but Jonathan Celestin has made such a strong push for a roster spot that the team may well elect to cut a player elsewhere to make room for him. If Celestin is a practice squad player for these Falcons, instead, then I think Atlanta’s pretty settled with Kemal Ishmael as their fifth linebacker.


This one I still don’t know! The Falcons got a nice return out of Reggie Davis on Saturday night, Marvin Hall has been solid, Calvin Ridley is probably the best kickoff returner on the team, and Ito Smith is still in the picture despite trying his best to take himself out of it. This one will be decided in the fourth week of preseason, I think, and I genuinely don’t have a feel for who is winning the job(s).

Let’s hear your thoughts about some of these roster and position battles.