The first three preseason games of the 2019 season have mercifully come to an end for the Falcons. Somehow, there are still two more to go—thanks, Hall of Fame game—but we trudge on all the same. There were some standout players and some performances we’d rather forget from the Jets’ game, so let’s take a look at how Preseason Week 2 affected my 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad)!
Remember: in an effort to keep things interesting, I’m going to heavily weight the most recent preseason performance when determining close battles. It’s still pretty early to determine any clear winners, so let’s just have a little fun with it.
Changes from my last projection will be marked with italics.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
You can officially lock-in Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub as the Falcons’ 2 QBs for the 2019 season. Ryan is, of course, totally safe as the starter and looked phenomenal under a ton of pressure against the Jets. Schaub has now put together two strong performances after a terrible Hall of Fame game. If Benkert were healthy, this may have been a great competition. Perhaps in 2020.
RB - 5
We finally got to see the return of Devonta Freeman, and while he played only a handful of snaps, it was great to see him out there. Ito Smith put together a mediocre performance as a rusher (he did get the lone TD of the game), but also chipped in 3 catches for 45 yards as a receiver. Brian Hill continues to look much improved from his earlier stint with the Falcons—it seems like he’s locked up the RB3 role. Qadree Ollison has been getting off to slow starts, but has managed to salvage his days with strong running to close out games—he led the team with 9 carries for 44 yards (4.9 average). Barner missed the game with injury, but he’s so far looked like the superior option at returner—Marcus Green has two more games to convince the team otherwise.
TE - 3
There was a lot of speculation last week about why the Falcons chose to move on from Eric Saubert. The answer now appears clear: Jaeden Graham is good. Graham was PFF’s highest graded offensive player for Atlanta against the Jets, and led the team in receiving with 4 catches for 55 yards. He might be good enough to convince the team to roll with 3 TEs, and it seems he may also beat out veteran Logan Paulsen. Austin Hooper and Luke Stocker—the primary starters—both turned in solid performances on Thursday.
WR - 6
The WR group is truly a toss-up after the top-4. We got our first glimpses of Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu this preseason, and both looked fantastic. Behind them, Russell Gage chipped in some impressive plays before going down with injury—thankfully, the injury does not appear to be long-term, according to Quinn. The battle for WR5 and WR6 (and possibly WR7) is still too close to call. The team clearly values Christian Blake for his special teams acumen, and Justin Hardy for his experience in the scheme. I’ll give them the edge after preseason week 2.
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
Again, no changes to this offensive line group. The starting five may see some adjustments before the season kicks off if Thursday’s game is any indication: Jamon Brown had his share of struggles, and Ty Sambrailo got dominated on several plays. There’s still time for the starters to continue to build chemistry, but the Falcons do have other options waiting in the wings: James Carpenter is returning to practice, and Matt Gono has been one of the most improved players this offseason. For the first time in what seems like forever, Atlanta has quality depth at this vital position.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 6
Vic Beasley looked mighty impressive on Thursday, contributing a tackle, a sack, and a TFL in limited snaps. The rest of the starters managed to put pretty consistent pressure on the Jets and gave us some hope that the DL could be a strength in 2019. Adding to that is the emergence of Austin Larkin, who has strung together three impressive preseason games thus far. He’s clearly got the athleticism and talent that Quinn craves, and he might be impossible to stash on the practice squad at this point.
DT - 4
It was great to see Grady Jarrett and the other starters back on the field, where they and the edge group put together an encouraging showing. Tyeler Davison had one of the most impressive plays of the night, blast through the OL and body-slamming the opposing RB for a TFL. Justin Zimmer is currently listed ahead of Deadrin Senat on the depth chart, despite Senat outplaying him in his snaps. While Zimmer has also been impressive, the team wouldn’t really cut a second-year draft pick (who was also a 3rd rounder) for a UDFA, right?
**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
While we still haven’t seen Deion Jones this preseason (and likely never will), the rest of the starting LBs have looked solid in their limited action. The favorites for the final two roster spots still appear to be veteran Bruce Carter and free agent addition Jermaine Grace. Carter has the most experience of anyone on the roster and can play all three LB spots. Grace has put together two impressive games, and has the best athleticism and coverage ability of any of the other competitors.
CB - 6
Despite some scary-looking injuries to Damontae Kazee and Kendall Sheffield, it appears the Falcons dodged a bullet—Quinn announced this weekend that neither injury was “long-term”, and Kazee in particular was day-to-day. It’s been an up-and-down preseason for the rookies Sheffield and Jordan Miller, but that’s not entirely unexpected. Desmond Trufant had a tremendous game against the Jets, looking like the best player on the field during Thursday’s game. This group is relatively set—although the team may elect to carry an extra DB if either Kazee or Sheffield’s injury is likely to linger into the season.
S - 4
SS Keanu Neal
FS Ricardo Allen
S Sharrod Neasman
S Kemal Ishmael
Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen made their return to the field for the Falcons’ defense, which was pretty darn good outside of the customary first drive shakiness. Neither got a ton of reps—and both looked a little sluggish in their first return to action—but I’m not concerned for Week 1. Meanwhile, Neasman and Ishmael continued to look like the best options behind the starters. Keep an eye on DB Chris Cooper: he was the next man up behind Kazee and Sheffield at nickel CB, and he had a good game overall. His versatility to play safety as well could see him wind up on the roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Giorgio Tavecchio
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris
Giorgio Tavecchio continued his shaky start into the Jets game, where he went 1/3 on FG attempts, missing his two 50+ yarders. For their part, the Falcons have continued to express confidence in the new kicker—which is the right move to avoid crushing his confidence. We’ll need to see Tavecchio start nailing these kicks over the next two games, but it’s still too early to panic. Bosher, on the other hand, had another tremendous day, averaging over 47 yards per punt. He’s as good as ever heading into 2019.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 10
QB Matt Simms - Perhaps this spot could be taken by new addition Danny Etling—Quinn mentioned that they liked his skillset as a running QB for practice situations—but Simms has so far been the only game in town that’s eligible for the practice squad.
RB Tony Brooks-James - Again, Brooks-James simply isn’t getting many chances to show off his skillset in these preseason games. That means he’s a longshot for the roster, but the team clearly likes him enough to make him a worthwhile stash on the squad.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus - Zaccheaus had a very quiet game after an impressive second performance. He’ll need to prove he can perform on special teams or win the return job to beat out Christian Blake—who has earned the praise and trust of Dirk Koetter.
WR Marcus Green - Green had a forgettable game as a returner in his first opportunity since returning from injury. At this point, Kenjon Barner has looked like the better option. Green still has two games to impress, so the battle is far from over—but he’s gotten almost no run with the offense, so if he doesn’t win the return job I’m not sure he’s got a clear path to the roster.
C Chandler Miller - Again, Chandler Miller continues to look like the most competent of the backup OL. He needs to continue building his strength, but he’s a potential long-term backup option at center with some more seasoning.
EDGE Durrant Miles - If it wasn’t for Austin Larkin blowing away the competition, the most impressive defensive lineman this preseason might be Durrant Miles. Miles has had several sacks and solid plays against the run, but hasn’t been as consistent as Larkin. He has a good shot at sticking on the squad if Larkin ends up making the roster.
DT Justin Zimmer - It’s hard leaving Zimmer off the roster, but I’m just not sure there’s room for him unless the team decides to part ways with Senat—which would be incredibly foolish. He’ll likely be the first man up in case of injury, but the chances are fairly high that another team recruits him to their active roster.
LB Del’Shawn Phillips - If the Falcons do decide to keep 6 LBs, which I doubt, Del’Shawn Phillips could potentially make the roster. But with Bruce Carter and Jermaine Grace—who has been even more impressive—ahead of him on the depth chart, I just don’t see a path for Phillips if the team keeps only 5. Still, Atlanta should try to keep him on the practice squad, as he’s been one of the most impressive players this preseason.
CB Jayson Stanley - While Jayson Stanley still hasn’t done much in the games, he’s exactly the type of player that the Falcons love to stash and develop. His special teams acumen and excellent size make him a potential depth CB, he just needs time to learn the position.
DB Chris Cooper - It seemed like Parker Baldwin might have been the front runner among the backup safeties, but it was actually Chris Cooper who starting getting run with the starters once Kazee and Sheffield went down. His versatility to play safety or nickel CB makes him a valuable player, and I wouldn’t be shocked if he actually wound up making the roster.
There were a few shakeups this week based upon the Jets game, but overall the Falcons roster remained pretty steady after Preseason Week 2. What are your thoughts on this roster projection? Any players you’d move around?