Just like last week, we watched this game and came away impressed with a handful of young players and hoping they’ll get another long (or longer) look against the Jets in Week 2 of preseason. Here’s four to keep your eye on.
WR Kahlil Lewis
Christian Blake and Olamide Zaccheaus have both put together a couple of strong efforts in a row, and will continue to be featured. C.J. Worton, Shawn Bane and Devin Gray hurt their cases with less-than-stellar games, with each of those guys dropping at least one pass. But Kahlil Lewis hasn’t really gotten the chance to prove his worth early in a game, and hopefully against the Jets he’ll get a more honest shot.
Thus far through two games in August, Lewis is third on the team with 57 receiving yards, third on the team in YAC (19), and has reeled in four of his seven targets to this point, showing off good speed in the process. With no breakaway candidate for the sixth receiver job to this point, the Falcons would be well-served getting everyone some reps with the “starters,” starting with Lewis this coming Thursday.
DE Austin Larkin
Larkin was an under-the-radar signing as a veteran who had intrigued coaching staffs at his last couple of spots but hadn’t managed to stick. In Atlanta, he found a landing spot where there are no established young defensive ends beyond Takkarist McKinley, John Cominsky (who may not stay at the position), and Vic Beasley (who may be elsewhere a year from now). If he’s good—and he has been thus far, picking up a sack, a special teams tackle, and another stop last night—there’s a real chance he could hang on to a roster spot here.
Thomas Dimitroff certainly took notice, per Vaughn McClure:
“Nice quick step. Gets around the corner well with athleticism. ... He’s not the fastest guy, but he plays fast.’’
LB Jermaine Grace
For the second week in a row, Grace did what was expected of him and then some. He’s got the look of a core special teamer for the Falcons, who are looking for reliable performers with a new special teams coordinator in town, but that’s hardly the only reason they might want to keep him.
Grace has looked fast and fluid in one exhibition and one preseason game thus far, with his interception of Josh Rosen serving on the exclamation point on his highlight reel thus far. With the Falcons intent on (smartly) keeping Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell out of games, with Kemal Ishmael spending some time at safety, and with Duke Riley injured, there’s a ton of snaps available for the likes of Grace and UDFAs like Del’Shawn Phillips, Yurik Bethune, and Tre’ Crawford. Grace has by far the best chance of being a contributor in 2019, and deserves to continue to grab plenty of snaps going forward to give the Falcons a chance to evaluate how large his role should be.
S Parker Baldwin
Baldwin rolled out with the starters on Thursday night and held his own. J.J. Wilcox is gone, I’m still not 100% sure Sharrod Neasman is a big part of this team’s plans going forward (though I do like him, as I’ve noted), and the team’s safety depth is anything but settled even with Kemal Ishmael porting back over to the position. Baldwin has an opportunity to join former teammate Damontae Kazee in this secondary and become a useful player, and it would behoove the Falcons to give him as much run as they can to see if he can be a contributor this year, especially with Keanu Neal coming off such a major injury.
Who else deserves a longer look ?