The Falcons just put out their first “unofficial” depth chart of the summer, which is a fun way of saying that while it’s obviously official by dint of being release by the team, you shouldn’t take it as gospel. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some eyebrow-raising items that we should explore further, and now we shall do just that.
What’s worth remarking upon?
#1: Russell Gage as Julio’s direct backup
Gage has been one of the darlings of summer workouts, making nice catches and blowing by defenders whenever he’s given the chance. At least in the early going, Gage is being listed as Julio’s direct backup, something that gives him a real shot at a more significant role than anticipated.
That’s because Julio, like several other elite wide receivers, plays between 75-80% of the offensive snaps. Both he and Mohamed Sanu checked in under 80% in 2018, which gives Gage a shot at a non-trivial number of targets and snaps if he can stick and make his value known. His speed makes him intriguing, at the very least, and I’m hoping we’ll see him show out this preseason.
#2: Kaleb McGary a backup, Chris Lindstrom and James Carpenter starting
The OL was always going to be a source of intrigue this offseason, and it appears we’ll have some genuine competitions here. Lindstrom is a slam dunk for a starting role at right guard, but Kaleb McGary has not pushed past Ty Sambrailo just yet despite his obvious promise. For McGary, it’ll be a question of showing he’s polished and ready for a major role, though the physical talent is evident and Sambrailo has not looked sharp thus far this summer, per most observers.
At left guard, things ought to go down to the wire. Carpenter is the more experienced and steady option and makes sense as the de facto starter of the moment, but given his contract structure, youth, and power, Brown is still a player i suspect the Falcons are hoping will win a role. We’ll see if he can do it, starting with a strong showing Thursday night.
#3: Wes Schweitzer as the backup center
Schweitzer has been an afterthought for a while now, as he turned in a solid but unspectacular 2017 season as a full-time starting guard and then was ticketed as a reserve until injuries forced him into the lineup in 2018. The team’s obvious lack of love for him as a guard aside—they signed two starting-caliber free agents and made their first overall pick in the draft a guard—they have him listed as the backup center, which is intriguing.
Schweitzer has plenty of experience at this point and has turned in at least decent performances in multiple seasons, so the thought of the Falcons turning to him as Alex Mack’s heir apparent or at least long-term reserve is a lot better than trying to hit the draft lottery or signing what promises to be an otherwise underwhelming crop of free agents in 2020. It’s worth watching whether this designation sticks.
#4: Tyeler Davison as the starter next to Grady Jarrett
On one hand, the amount of rotation that’s ahead for this defensive line and in particular this defensive tackle group is likely to make the de facto starter sort of irrelevant. On the other hand, Tyeler Davison!
The veteran former Saint turned in three solid starting seasons in New Orleans, primarily as a run stopper, but flew under the radar a bit with Allen Bailey aboard and Jack Crawford, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Deadrin Senat already here. Nonetheless, his quietly strong play figures to make him a major part of this team’s rotation, and he’s probably one of their most capable run defenders from day one. I don’t expect him to relinquish this gig.
#5: Five defensive ends?
It’s hard to know how much to read into the way the Falcons are aligning personnel, but the fact that they’ve listed five defensive ends and two linebackers ought to pique everyone’s interest. There’s a non-trivial chance the Falcons will actually run some 5-2 fronts in 2019, especially against offenses that are fond of the option, because it allows them to put a strong, beefy front led by Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Davison, and Allen Bailey on the field and still make use of Vic Beasley, who can function in a defensive end/linebacker hybrid role that the Falcons have been sort of preparing him for. It’s not like these kinds of front are entirely new to the Falcons, but with so many capable players and in particular the addition of Bailey, it’s possible they’ll actually use it a bit more often.
That said, it’s not like it’s going to happen all the time, so it’s more something to monitor for the moment.