The 2019 NFL Draft is in the rear view, and the first crop of UDFAs has been signed for the Falcons. You know what that means: it’s time for an absurdly early roster projection, based on nothing but my gut feelings and the tiny amount of information I’ve been able to glean on these players from the internet.
Still, it’s always a fun exercise to see where the roster might be different versus last season. There are some pretty major shake-ups, but overall the roster is in pretty good shape—assuming Dan Quinn is right about his ability to develop the pass rush. At any rate, please enjoy my first 53-man roster projection of the season—however, no practice squad yet as I literally know next to nothing about these UDFAs. We’ll have to wait until OTAs and rookie minicamp to get some more information. Italics denote a change from the 2018 depth chart.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
The QB room is likely to be the same in 2019 as it has been for...well, awhile. That’s a good thing at the top, with Matt Ryan still in his prime. He’s a top-10 QB at worst who has only gotten more mobile with his time in Shanahan and Sarkisian’s schemes. Backup Matt Schaub returned on a very cheap 2-year contract—his cap hit is only $1.4M this season. Second-year QB Kurt Benkert will have an opportunity to earn the job in camp, but Schaub remains the favorite.
RB - 4
Things will be different this year at RB, but not at the top. We’re all hoping that Devonta Freeman remains healthy and is able to return to his status as one of the NFL’s premier RBs. Ito Smith demonstrated that he could be a quality RB2 in 2018, and he’ll be expected to reprise that role this season. I’d be shocked if the two rookies don’t end up making the roster. Qadree Ollison can serve as the short-yardage back and also has some ability as a blocker. Marcus Green is a versatile chess piece that can play RB and WR, and I expect him to beat out Kenjon Barner and others for the return role.
TE - 4
Tight end figures to be almost exactly the same as 2019, save for the addition of the versatile Luke Stocker—who is a competent blocker, can play FB, and catch a few passes if required. Austin Hooper will hopefully continue his ascension as one of the better young TEs in the NFL. Logan Paulsen will once again serve as a good blocking option. This is the make-or-break year for Eric Saubert—can he finally show enough to carve out a role, and prove he deserves a roster spot? If not, we could see the team opt for a sixth receiver instead.
WR - 5
The biggest change at WR is likely to be the number kept. Under Shanahan and Sarkisian the Falcons generally kept six receivers, but during Koetter’s tenure the team usually kept only five. Otherwise, things look to be mostly the same in 2019. Julio Jones is arguably the best receiver in the league and is in his prime. Calvin Ridley was the best rookie WR by a significant margin, and should continue to grow into his WR2 role. Mohamed Sanu is versatile and will be an excellent WR3. The solid Justin Hardy returns on a one-year deal to be the WR4. Russell Gage should be the favorite for WR5, due to his special teams ability and impressive athleticism.
OL - 10
LT Jake Matthews
LG Chris Lindstrom
C Alex Mack
RG Jamon Brown
RT Kaleb McGary
OT Ty Sambrailo
OT Matt Gono
G James Carpenter
G Wes Schweitzer
C Chandler Miller
The position group with the most changes in 2019 will undoubtedly be the offensive line. I’m projecting three new starters in 2019, and five changes to the depth chart overall. The hope is that the starting five will be a significant improvement over the injury-riddled 2018 unit.
Jake Matthews made his first Pro Bowl last season, and I’d expect his stellar play to continue to improve. Rookie Chris Lindstrom transitions to LG, and should be average at worst this season—with the potential for Pro Bowls in the future. Alex Mack should still be his awesome self, but he’s getting older and the team should begin looking for his successor. Free agent addition Jamon Brown has struggled at times in his career, but he’s always looked best at RG—the hope is that he can continue to grow in that role. Kaleb McGary—the Falcons’ second first-round OL selection—takes over for Ryan Schraeder at RT, and his play will likely determine just how good this unit can be in 2019.
The depth looks a lot better than it has in years, as well. Ty Sambrailo probably could be a starter, but instead serves as a trustworthy swing tackle. The team continues to develop Matt Gono, who’s raw but brimming with potential. We believed James Carpenter was signed to be a starter, but instead he’ll serve as the primary interior backup. Wes Schweitzer should also stick around, as he’s shown that he’s a quality reserve player that can start in a pinch.
The big question mark is at backup center—who could it be? Adam Gettis, who hasn’t played since 2017? Sean Harlow, who was rumored to be cross-training at C? My money is actually on UDFA Chandler Miller, who was an All-AAC selection and a Rimington Award finalist for the nation’s top center.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 5
The position group with the most question marks, by far. Vic Beasley will be expected to return to his 2016 form—a feat he has not replicated since, well, 2016. Takkarist McKinley will be depended on to finally break out in 2019, after showing a lot of promise but never quite getting there. Adrian Clayborn returns after a year with the Patriots, and he should provide dependable play on both the edge and interior. Steven Means will fill the “Brooks Reed” role of a rotational player that can do a little of everything. Rookie John Cominsky probably won’t see many snaps in 2019, but he’s big and can certainly help out against the run while he refines his pass rushing technique.
DT - 5
Fans were probably most disappointed by the Falcons failing to add a player at DT, but the group is stronger than most realize. Grady Jarrett is a force on the interior against both the run and pass. Jack Crawford was quietly one of the most effective pass rushers on the team. Deadrin Senat showed promise as a rookie, and I’d expect his contributions to increase in 2019. Tyeler Davison joined the Falcons in free agency, and will provide good run-stuffing ability in the base defense. Ra’Shede Hageman will get his shot at redemption as the final player in the rotation—hopefully he can harness his newfound determination and become a quality contributor again.
LB - 5
The Falcons’ LB corps suffered a major loss due to injury in 2018, with Deion Jones missing the majority of the season. With Jones back, the group should once again be a strength for Atlanta. De’Vondre Campbell reprises his role as a versatile chess piece that can match-up with TEs and stop the run. Second-year player Foyesade Oluokun should get the first crack at the starting WILL spot after impressing in his rookie season. Jermaine Grace returns as a free agent, and I’d expect him to easily earn a roster spot in this surprisingly crowded position. The final spot goes to veteran Bruce Carter, who proved that he could be a dependable spot starter in 2018—that experience is quite valuable.
CB - 6
Another position with a lot of turnover at the top, the CB corps will look very different in 2019. Desmond Trufant returns as the CB1, and the hope is that an improved pass rush will help him return to form. Second-year CB Isaiah Oliver will be expected to step into the starting role opposite Trufant—how he performs will be a big part of the defense’s success this season. Damontae Kazee transitions back to CB to play the slot for Atlanta, where he can hopefully be just as impressive as at FS. Veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson returns as the CB4—he’s versatile and dependable at just about any spot. The two rookies round out the depth chart—Kendall Sheffield is likely the primary backup in the slot, while Jordan Miller provides depth on the outside.
S - 4
The safety position was completely decimated with injuries in 2018, with starters Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen both out for the season by Week 3. Atlanta’s attempts to fill the gaps were mixed—Damontae Kazee excelled in Allen’s absence, but Jordan Richards failed miserably at SS and was arguably the biggest weakness on the team. Eventually, Sharrod Neasman was brought in and given an opportunity to start, where he looked a lot better. With Kazee transitioning to the slot CB role, I expect veteran J.J. Wilcox to win the backup FS position.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Giorgio Tavecchio
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris
It’s been years since we’ve had to make a change in the special teams section, but it has finally come. The Falcons parted ways with the legendary Matt Bryant this offseason, going with Giorgio Tavecchio instead. Tavecchio acquitted himself quite well during his time filling in for Bryant, and the hope is that he can replicate some of Bryant’s magic. Matt Bosher should continue being a very good punter and one of the best tacklers on the team. The Falcons brought in some competition for the ultra-reliable Josh Harris, but I’d be shocked if he lost the job.
What do you think of this roster projection, Falcons fans? Any positions you’d change around? Any UDFAs you’d love to see make the roster?