The Falcons have a history of finding quality undrafted free agents. They’ve been the first team to give opportunities to the likes of Brent Grimes, Ryan Schraeder, Brian Poole, and Paul Worrilow over the years, and all of those guys carved out truly significant roles (with varying levels of success) for Atlanta.
As the roster has grown in the Dan Quinn era, those additions have been fewer and farther between, and that’s likely to be true again in 2019. The Falcons prioritized making draft picks and stocking veteran depth at key positions, which is going to mean roster spots are scarce for this year’s group of 16 UDFAs.
A year ago, just one undrafted free agent made the active roster and stuck, and that was developmental OL Matt Gono, who will be fighting to make the team again in 2019. In addition to Gono, DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, QB Kurt Benkert, DT Justin Zimmer, TE Jaeden Graham, and WRs Christian Blake and Devin Gray spent time on Atlanta’s practice squad and are currently part of the 90 man roster. LB Richard Jarvis surprisingly made the roster initially, too, but didn’t stick. You can expect a similar showing this year out of a smaller crop of guys, with maybe 1-2 spots an UDFA could conceivably latch on at, plus practice squad churn that should afford others opportunity.
Who belongs on the list of players who could stick around, at least on the practice squad? Let’s take a closer look at a few top candidates in the early going.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
Wide receiver is one of the more wide open positions, at least in terms of practice squad availability. Blake and Gray did fine work last year, most notably Gray, but neither one has a huge leg up on a spot in the here and now, and the roster looks pretty set with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marcus Green, and Russell Gage as the six available options.
That leaves room for Zaccheaus to sneak on to the practice squad and marinate for a year. Zaccheaus is an explosive, potent athlete who made a habit of getting by defensive backs at Virginia and taking it to the house. He managed three 70-plus yard catch-and-run touchdowns in his final two seasons, put up 93 catches for 1,058 yards and 9 touchdowns in his senior year, and like Green has some positional versatility as a part-time runner early in his college career. He’s not known for his hands or size, but the explosiveness could earn him a look down the line if the Falcons want to stock the cupboard at WR with versatile athletes.
C Chandler Miller
Miller’s a pivot who moves well and is strong for his size (listed at under 300 pounds), but his primary calling card is a school-record 50 straight games started at center at the University of Tulsa. That wealth of experience gives him a good feel for the position and makes him interesting in Atlanta, where the team figures to rely on the likes of Wes Schweitzer, Adam Gettis, or a street free agent to back up Alex Mack at center.
Miller has an outsized chance of sneaking onto the active roster if he shows well, given the team’s ongoing need for a true center to back up Mack. If not, he’s probably worth the development time as Mack’s contract winds down.
LB Durrant Miles
Miles is a college defensive end who will apparently be converting to linebacker in Atlanta. At Boise State, he was an active and disruptive pass rusher who put up 17 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in three years as a part-time starter, offers the plus athleticism the Falcons like, and brings a history of solid run defense to the group. The team has a number of one-year contracts and questionable future fits at linbacker right now, so a player like Miles could spend a year developing and step in to the picture at 2020.
FS Parker Baldwin
There are several things working in Baldwin’s favor here. First, he’s from San Diego State, where Damontae Kazee excelled and caught the Falcons’ eyes, and his overlap with Kazee might mean the rising defender put in a good word for him. Like Kazee, Baldwin was a bit of a ballhawk in college, and he’s also got plus physicality and quality size for the position, making him at least an intriguing developmental option.
It’s a slim chance, like everything else on this list, but Baldwin could sneak on because the lack of proven options after Ricardo Allen (who is himself recovering from a major injury) is a cause for concern heading into the year. If he shows well in the spring and summer, I’d feel very confident about his chances of at least sticking on the practice squad, even if that doesn’t happen.
CB Jayson Stanley
Because Dan Quinn loves his converted wide receivers, of course.
Stanley’s entering a very crowded group of cornerbacks and is converting to corner, meaning his best chance is probably at a practice squad spot. It’s worth noting that he’s got the speed and size (6’2”, over 200 pounds) that Dan Quinn likes from the position, and that he played special teams and played special teams quite well in Georgia, both as a blocker and as a gunner. If the Falcons are intent on re-making their secondary in the coming years, Stanley could eventually push for C.J. Goodwin’s old role as the team’s nominal fourth or fifth cornerback and a core special teamer.
Who else belongs on this list?