We’re now through the first two preseason games of the 2019 season for the Atlanta Falcons. We’ve seen some impressive performances, some duds, and some that we’re not quite sure about yet. So naturally, it’s time to make sweeping predictions about who will make the Falcons’ final 53-man roster (and practice squad).
We’ve still got three more weeks to go before final cuts—and the starters have barely played at this point—so take these predictions with the proper amount of caution. It’s still fun, though!
Changes from my last projection will be marked with italics.
OFFENSE - 26
QB - 2
No movement here after Preseason Week 1, where we saw Matt Schaub re-establish himself as the top backup behind Matt Ryan. Schaub terrified fans with a horrible Hall of Fame game, but rebounded in a big way against the Dolphins. Assuming he continues on this trajectory, it’s safe to say that Schaub’s job is secure for the 2019 season.
RB - 5
We once again saw no snaps from Devonta Freeman, but the reports out of camp are very encouraging. Behind him, Ito Smith once again got very few reps—he’s pretty entrenched in his role as RB2. Brian Hill got the first crack at RB3 duties, looking solid behind spotty blocking and consistently getting the needed yards in 3rd and short. After a lackluster start, rookie Qadree Ollison had a tremendous fourth quarter effort, rattling off two long runs and finishing the night with 8 carries for 41 yards (5.1 average) and a TD. The return battle has swayed in favor of the veteran Kenjon Barner, who handled the vast majority of the workload and also chipped in a magnificent 37 yard TD catch. Will the Falcons really keep 5 RBs? Probably not, but this is where we’re at heading into Preseason Week 2.
TE - 4
We received a bit of surprising news on Monday when the Falcons announced the trade of Eric Saubert to the Patriots in exchange for a conditional 7th-round pick. That leaves a big question: do the Falcons now elect to keep only 3 TEs, or were they just that impressed with Jaeden Graham? I’m leaning towards the latter, as Graham showed off solid blocking and receiving chops over the first two preseason games—enough to make the team comfortable with moving on from Saubert.
WR - 6
We still haven’t gotten to see the starters in the preseason, but we know their roles are totally locked in. The battle behind them is turning out to be quite fierce, but here’s where things stand after the first week of the preseason. Russell Gage has been the most consistently impressive of the bunch, and we know he’s dynamite on special teams—making him a clear roster lock. Behind him, UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus has surpassed Christian Blake in terms of total yardage and noteworthy plays—his potential ability as a returner also helps his case. At WR6, I’m going to give the advantage back to Justin Hardy. He may end up being a gameday inactive, but he’s a veteran who knows the offense and can be trusted to fill in if any of the starters miss time.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Jamon Brown
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Ty Sambrailo
G James Carpenter
C/G Wes Schweitzer
OT Kaleb McGary
OT Matt Gono
No changes here after an up-and-down performance from the OL through two preseason games. The starters still haven’t seen the field together, but the glimpses we’ve seen of players like Jamon Brown and Chris Lindstrom have been encouraging. Schweitzer looks solid as the primary backup center, and that versatility essentially guarantees him a roster spot. Matt Gono had some penalty issues against Miami, but his overall play has been very impressive for a second-year UDFA. I believe he’s part of the Falcons’ long-term plans at OT, potentially as a swing option to take over for Sambrailo. Carpenter and McGary continue to rehab their injuries, but both are clear roster locks. Keep an eye on the versatile John Wetzel, who is just on the edge of the roster but is likely the first man up in case of injury.
DEFENSE - 24
EDGE - 5
The brief glimpse we got of the starters was pretty encouraging, as Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley looked pretty impressive against the Dolphins’ admittedly ramshackle offensive line. We didn’t see much of Clayborn or Bailey, but both are clearly viewed as safe starters. Cominsky had a quieter game compared to his electric performance last week, but he’s still got tremendous upside and the ability to create splash plays at any moment.
DT - 4
With the team needing to keep Kenjon Barner as the returner, the Falcons have to make a cut somewhere. That cut comes at DT, where keeping a 10th DL is a big luxury—particularly when you have two EDGE players who can split time at the position. The top four of Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, and Tyeler Davison are a very solid group that should provide Atlanta with a strong mix of run stuffing and pass rush ability.
**Due to Hageman’s suspension, the Falcons can actually carry him on the team for the first two weeks of the season without him counting against the 53-man roster.
LB - 5
After the first week of the preseason, I feel even more confident about my initial LB predictions. The top three guys remained locked in to their roles. Bruce Carter played only a handful of snaps—the same number as De’Vondre Campbell—showing how much trust the coaching staff has in him. Meanwhile, Jermaine Grace followed up an up-and-down performance against the Broncos with a tremendous effort against the Dolphins. Grace tied for the team lead in total tackles (5—3 solo and 2 assists) and added a very nice interception and a pass deflection. Grace is clearly the best coverage LB of the bunch, and his athleticism makes him a natural fit in the Falcons’ defense.
CB - 6
No changes to this group, as none of the UDFAs have impressed enough to challenge the rookies or veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson for a roster spot. After an impressive first game from Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller, both struggled against Miami—in particular, WR Preston Williams, who put on an absolute clinic. It’s important not to get too concerned over one preseason performance, particularly against such talented competition (Williams put up over 1300 yards and 14 TDs in 2018, but fell out of the draft due to off-field issues). Still, this group has the most to prove of any on the Falcons’ defense.
S - 4
SS Keanu Neal
FS Ricardo Allen
S Sharrod Neasman
S Kemal Ishmael
We still haven’t seen Keanu Neal or Ricardo Allen make their preseason debuts, but there are no concerns about their ability or place on this roster. The competition for backup spots is getting a little more interesting with the emergence of UDFA Parker Baldwin, who has now had two solid games in a row. Still, the Falcons have a lot of trust in both Neasman—who started a good portion of the 2018 season—and Ishmael, and it seems unlikely that they’d hand over either of those jobs to a UDFA. Keep an eye on Baldwin, but this group seems pretty settled.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Giorgio Tavecchio
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris
After missing a 54-yard attempt in the Hall of Fame Game, Giorgio Tavecchio went 2/2 on FGs of 29 and 38 yards during the game against Miami. He also nailed his only extra point attempt of the night, and generally looked competent on his kickoffs—which I believe were all designed to go short of the endzone. Bosher averaged a healthy 42.8 yards per punt average, including a 50 yarder, and has shown no signs of slowing down. After fending off a camp challenge, LS Josh Harris is locked in for the 2019 season.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 10
QB Matt Simms - Kurt Benkert has officially gone on IR, shelving him for the 2019 season. That makes Matt Simms the presumptive practice squad stash as the Falcons’ one player with more than four years of accrued experience. It’s possible Atlanta brings in someone else after cuts, but the job is Simms’ for now.
RB Tony Brooks-James - Brooks-James once again got very few opportunities, but turned them into some productive plays on the ground. His two carries went for 21 yards, and he showed off the speed and elusiveness that have made him a camp darling. He’ll likely wind up on the squad for 2019.
WR Christian Blake - Zaccheaus just edged out Blake for a roster spot, but the Falcons keep him close at hand on the practice squad. Blake doesn’t have the flashy athletic ability of Zaccheaus, but he’s got reliable hands and good size along with special teams ability.
WR Marcus Green - Green’s injury has kept him off the field for the majority of the first two preseason games. If he’s unable to make enough of an impression on the coaching staff, he could find himself on the practice squad (or even IR) for his rookie season. He’s supposedly healthy now, and has three more games to make his case.
C Chandler Miller - None of the depth OL for the Falcons have really stood out, but Chandler has arguably been the most consistent of the bunch. Atlanta’s long-term center situation is murky, so Miller is a logical developmental stash.
EDGE Austin Larkin - A complete unknown coming into training camp, Austin Larkin has now put together two strong preseason performances. Larkin was the best defensive lineman on the field for Atlanta against Miami, piling up an impressive 5 solo tackles, 1.0 sacks, and a TFL.
DT Justin Zimmer - Zimmer is one of those players right on the roster bubble, but I think his floor is the practice squad. He didn’t have quite as good a game against Miami, but his athletic ability is through the roof and he plays with a lot of passion. He’s someone the Falcons would probably like to keep around to develop.
LB Del’Shawn Phillips - There’s a pretty fierce competition for this practice squad spot, with several LBs (Tre’ Crawford, Yurik Bethune) making a case. Del’Shawn Phillips has taken the slight lead after two noteworthy games, adding 5 total tackles and another TFL to his resume.
CB Jayson Stanley - While Ryan Neal has been a solid tackler at CB, he’s been pretty close to a trainwreck in coverage. Jayson Stanley is understandably raw after his transition from WR to CB, but he’s got proven special teams ability to go with very good size. His play has been encouraging enough that I expect the Falcons to keep him around on the squad.
S Parker Baldwin - Parker Baldwin might be pushing Kemal Ishmael a bit for that backup SS spot, as the UDFA has more athleticism and coverage ability than the veteran. We’ll have to monitor this one as the preseason goes on, but for now Baldwin’s floor appears to be the practice squad.
Some injuries, trades, and impressive performances caused a bit of shuffling on the Falcons’ roster heading into the second week of the preseason. Who were some of the most surprising cuts and additions this week? Any particular players that you’d move around? Who’s a player right on the fringe of the roster that you’d like to see make it to the 53?