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How special teams snaps help us determine favorites for the Falcons’ final roster spots

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No sure things here, especially with a new ST coordinator, but still a helpful story.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The Falcons have plenty of tough roster decisions to make this offseason after adding a half dozen interesting veteran depth pieces and seven new draft choices. As always, special teams value will help to make some of those decisions easier.

In years past, being a Keith Armstrong favorite helped a lot, which is how we knew that, say, Eric Weems was likely to return during his run in Atlanta, or Kemal Ishmael was going to stick over the last few years. The picture is clouded by the addition of Ben Kotwica as the team’s new special teams coordinator, who will carry his own preferences that will certainly impact the final roster.

That said, here are the ten players with the most special teams snaps in 2018, eight of whom are still in Atlanta. I’m not including specialists or Matt Bosher would be here.


Kemal Ishmael: 330 (75%)

Eric Saubert: 292 (66.4%)

Russell Gage: 280 (63.4%)

Justin Bethel: 259 (58.9%)

Duke Riley: 222 (50%)

Marvin Hall: 203 (46.1%)

Logan Paulsen: 191 (43.4%)

Bruce Carter: 188 (42.7%)

Foye Oluokun: 182 (41.4%)

Sharrod Neasman: 166 (37.7%)


The only outside addition with significant special teams snaps last year are Luke Stocker and Kenjon Barner, with Barner’s work coming chiefly as a return specialist.

Luke Stocker: 190 (45.4%)


The conclusion here is that pending significant (and unexpected) special teams value for some of the rookies and/or new guys, Ishmael, Saubert, Gage, and Riley should have real legs up to make the team. Ish is one of the team’s best special teams tacklers, full stop, and Riley proved to be very useful there himself after flaming out as a starting linebacker. Gage is one of the team’s gunners and did well there in year one, while Saubert has proven to be mighty useful for his blocking skills. They’ll need guys behind them to excel to push them out of those roles, particularly Ishmael given his truly remarkable special teams workload.

That has implications beyond those players, as well. For example, does Bruce Carter fend off Jermaine Grace if the latter looks impressive, given the hype for his special teams play coming into the league? Does Foye Oluokun come to dominate special teams snaps Do the Falcons carry four tight ends given that Stocker and Paulsen had approximately the same number of special teams snaps and Stocker is more familiar with the current coordinators and perhaps a little more valuable in the passing game? Does a player like Kendall Sheffield get a ton of special teams run early given his speed and the team’s lack of Hall and Bethel heading into 2019, even if he doesn’t have a major defensive role?

These are questions that do not yet have answers, but I think you should consider the first four guys on the list to be genuine early favorites for spots again in 2019, especially after the Falcons didn’t expend draft capital or significant free agent dollars at linebacker, tight end, or wide receiver.