Original Competition: Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert
Current Competition: Matt Schaub, Matt Simms, Danny Etling
Schaub locked this up the moment that Kurt Benkert was lost for the year with a toe injury, but he’s more than salted it away by playing quality ball each of the last two weeks. Matt Simms is essentially auditoning for a gig elsewhere at this point, while Danny Etling is likely to spend the year on the practice squad with an eye on competing for the backup gig a year from now. This one is sewn up.
Likely winner: Matt Schaub
Third running back
Original Competition: Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison, Kenjon Barner, Tony Brooks-James, Marcus Green sort of
Current Competition: Brian Hill, Qadree Ollison
At this point, the Falcons are still sorting out their fourth job, which is going to come down to Kenjon Barner or Marcus Green (who could sort of slot in at wide receiver) based on who wins the returner gig. The third job is down to two guys, though.
Ito Smith showed on Thursday night why he should be considered the favorite for the second job, with his value as a pass catcher and hard-charging style serving as a nice complement to Devonta Freeman. That would leave Hill vs. Ollison for the third gig.
Hill has been one of the more impressive players of the summer on offense, and he’s been running ahead of Ollison throughout preseason games to this point, though he had a quiet night against the Jets. Ollison and Hill have mixed in on special teams, and Ollison has at least reeled off some impressive runs when the blocking has been there for him.
One item to watch: The team could try to move Hill if he doesn’t win the job, similar to what they did with Eric Saubert. But this honestly still doesn’t feel settled, so I’m not projecting a winner just yet. Hopefully this coming Thursday will help clarify, but it should go down to the wire.
Likely winner: Toss-up
Original Competition: Olamide Zaccheaus, Marcus Green (kind of), Devin Gray, Christian Blake, C.J. Worton, Kahlil Lewis, Shawn Bane
Current Competition: Olamide Zaccheaus, Devin Gray, Christian Blake, Marcus Green (kind of)
Am I possibly over-pruning this particular tree? Sure. But I think performance and snap allocation to this point tells a story.
Shawn Bane has typically mixed in late in games and hasn’t had many in-game chances at returner, which seems to be coming down to other players. Worton has played a lot but has had up-and-down performances including some killer drops, though he could figure in for a practice squad spot. And Lewis has barely played, despite some impressive performances when he has been in games, which I think makes it clear that he’s not really in the mix here.
That leaves one of this year’s undrafted gems against a pair of second year players. Zaccheaus hasn’t really figured in at the returner gigs but has had some impressive games as a receiver, Gray is coming off a terrific effort and is one of the better route runners in this group, and Blake has been steady and has consistently drawn huge praise from Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the coaching staff for his progress this summer.
Green’s here because he could be listed as a nominal fourth running back or sixth wide receiver, because he may mix in at both. I don’t think the team has truly settled this yet, but I do think Blake’s constant standout buzz gives him a leg up at the moment, with Gray charging into the picture.
Likely winner: Christian Blake
Third tight end
Original Competition: Eric Saubert, Logan Paulsen, Jaeden Graham, Alex Gray
Current Competition: Jaeden Graham, Logan Paulsen, Alex Gray
The trade of Eric Saubert was not made on a whim. He was an early frontrunner for the third tight end gig, and wit him out of the picture, the competition is down to three guys.
Given Dirk Koetter’s love of pass-catching tight ends, Graham’s steadily growing buzz, and his breakout game against the Jets, it’s hard to think he’s not the favorite. The Falcons have capable blockers all over the offense, including both Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker at tight end, and Graham is displaying some truly interesting upside. Paulsen should be a lock if they want their third tight end to block, given his excellence in that arena, but I have a strong feeling the Falcons are ready to give the gig to Graham and bring their number of former Yale players up to two.
Likely winner: Jaeden Graham
Ninth offensive lineman
Original Competition: Sean Harlow, Matt Gono, Dieugot Joseph, John Wetzel, Chandler Miller, Jaelin Robinson
Current Competition: Sean Harlow, John Wetzel, Chandler Miller, Matt Gono, Tommy Doles, Jaelin Robinson
I think it’s safe to assume that James Carpenter/Jamon Brown are locked in as a reserve guard, Ty Sambrailo’s on the roster as a short-term starter and swing tackle over the long haul, and that Wes Schweitzer’s newfound time at center means he’ll be the team’s backup center and deep reserve at guard. That leaves a lot of guys duking it out over what I imagine will be one available spot.
This one feels pretty easy, nonetheless. Matt Gono has shown versatility—he’s played guard and tackle—and has pretty consistently been one of the stronger performers out there for the second team offensive line. Harlow’s getting a long look as a potential practice squad guy, Chandler Miller’s ability to play center might earn him a gig there, and Jaelin Robinson clearly has some upside of his own, so the battle for a practice squad spot or two is likely to be heated. But Gono feels like a slam dunk as the team’s final offensive lineman.
Likely Winner: Matt Gono
Eager to get your thoughts on who should be considered the frontrunner at each of these spots.