For one final time before this last preseason game, I wanted to take a crack at projecting out the practice squad for the Falcons. I’m using only internal candidates, which means this isn’t likely to be 100% accurate, but it’s still a worthwhile exercise. We’ll re-visit after tomorrow night’s game and after the practice squad is actually selected, which should be on Sunday and Monday.
I suspect the Falcons will elect to keep six receivers and nine offensive linemen in 2018, which is why this practice squad is lighter on those positions than it has been in years past. Definitely share your projections with us in the comments!
QB Kurt Benkert
Easy choice. Benkert has been uneven this preseason, but has shown enough to justify keeping him around as the team’s de facto third quarterback. He has the arm, mobility and overall talent to eventually become a capable backup QB in the NFL, and I’m hopeful he’ll develop in time to take over for Matt Schaub in 2019.
RB Justin Crawford
The team simply hasn’t seen enough out of Crawford to this point after he did very well in practices, but the fact that they’re giving him so many opportunities at the expense of Malik Williams speaks volumes. With some special teams value and upside as a runner, Crawford should spend the year marinating on the practice squad, though he could join the team if there are any injuries.
WR Reggie Davis
What do you need a practice squad receiver to do? Develop is one answer, of course, but play might be another if injury strikes. Given that Davis would be taking over as the fifth or receiver in that case, he’s an excellent fit for a practice squad spot as a fast, shifty receiver who could grab a couple of targets in a game while providing value on special teams. For the second straight year, he should hang around. Dontez Byrd and Devin Gray are possibilities here, but if the Falcons keep six receivers as I suspect, they’re luxuries.
T Matt Gono
I’d love to be surprised and see the Falcons carry Gono on the active roster, but I think Ty Sambrailo will wind up being the swing tackle and Austin Pasztor will end up elsewhere. That leaves Gono to develop on the practice squad and step in if there’s an emergency. He’s genuinely held his own so far in preseason, and I’d love to see him get a better shot at the swing tackle gig in 2019.
DE J’Terius Jones
Jones has been given a chance to shine the way he did in preseason a year ago and hasn’t really seized on it, though he’s been solid enough. The Falcons could be without the services of both Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby a year from now, however, and need to have a young defensive end who might actually step in and become part of the rotation. Jones is still the best bet to do so based on his experience in this defense and performance to this point, so he stays.
DT Justin Zimmer
I think it’ll come down to Garrison Smith or Zimmer for the final roster spot at defensive tackle, and I suspect Smith’s run-stopping acumen and NFL experience will earn him the early nod. That leaves Zimmer, who has flashed as a pass rusher in recent weeks, an opportunity to develop and push for a spot next year when Terrell McClain and perhaps Smith are gone. Given the team’s struggles to find pass rushing help at the back end of their interior defensive line rotation, Zimmer could make a splash down the line.
LB Jonathan Celestin
I’d like to believe that Celestin will make the roster, and he has as good a chance as anyone on this list. He’s been genuinely impressive as a defender and a special teamer in preseason and deserves the opportunity to stick with this team. With four established linebackers and a hard-hitting special teamer in Kemal Ishmael, though, the Falcons may elect to try to sneak Celestin through to the practice squad with an eye on getting him involved in 2019. Besides Benkert and maybe Gono, he has the clearest path to a role next season.
LB Richard Jarvis
Jarvis has had his miscues this offseason, but he’s shown promise as a hard-charging linebacker and special teamer, and the Falcons have given him quite a bit of run to see if he’s worth keeping around. I suspect they’ll determine the answer to that is yes and hold him in reserve as potential special teams help down the line.
CB Deantre Burton
The former receiver has continued to get a long, appreciative look from the Falcons despite not showing a lot besides speed and size. Atlanta loves that combination, however, and may elect to keep Burton around for one more year to see what he can turn into.
DB Chris Lammons
A very promising young defensive back, Lammons has had shaky stretches of play but has gotten time at safety and cornerback and has looked at least decent in both spots. He’s young and physical and, given that positional versatility, figures to be a solid insurance policy and developmental DB for this practice squad.
TE Alex Gray
The Falcons have an international player squad they may as well use. Gray could be the third tight end in 2019 if his two years on the squad prove to be fruitful, but he can’t play in 2018 and is a name you can safely file away for the moment.