We’re in the final stretch of the 2019 NFL Preseason, and only one game remains for the Falcons: Thursday’s tilt against the Jacksonville Jaguars. We got to see a much more encouraging performance from the starters on both offense and defense against Washington, and also got our first glimpse at QB Danny Etling late in the game. Let’s take a closer look at how the fourth preseason game influenced my roster projection.
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
After four preseason games, there’s really not much to say about the QB group. Matt Ryan is locked in as the starter, and Matt Schaub is locked in as the backup—for at least one more year. Hopefully, Kurt Benkert can make a full recovery from injury and compete for the QB2 job again in 2020.
RB - 5
A position of some concern for the Falcons heading into the preseason, Atlanta now seems to possess an embarrassment of riches. If anyone had said the team was going to consider carrying 5 RBs on the 53-man roster a few months ago, I would’ve called them silly. But with Brian Hill and rookie Qadree Ollison impressing and veteran Kenjon Barner all but locking up the returner job, there don’t seem to be any players you can cut at this point. This does make things a little difficult elsewhere on the roster, but the Falcons have enough depth to afford it.
TE - 3
Austin Hooper has started making difficult catches look like routine plays, which will be great for the offense in 2019. Meanwhile, Luke Stocker got plenty of run at FB and as an in-line TE for the Falcons against Washington. He’s a versatile option who should be a significant contributor this season. The surprise of training camp has been second-year UDFA Jaeden Graham, who has played so well that Atlanta traded away Eric Saubert and might be comfortable enough to move on from Logan Paulsen. Trimming down to 3 TEs will be necessary if the team does intend to keep 5 RBs.
WR - 6
After the Falcons’ fourth preseason game, the WR group is beginning to become more clear. The top-4, as they’ve been throughout the preseason, are virtually set in stone. Although the competition is ongoing for the final two (or perhaps three) spots, two favorites have established themselves. Veteran Justin Hardy has a leg up due to his special teams acumen, experience in the offense, and overall reliability. Second-year UDFA Christian Blake has made a strong impression on the coaching staff as another reliable option and strong special teams player. With both Marcus Green and Olamide Zaccheaus failing to stand out at returner, they’ve cleared the way for others to overtake them on the 53-man roster.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Jamon Brown
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Matt Gono
G James Carpenter
C/G Wes Schweitzer
OT Ty Sambrailo
OT Kaleb McGary
While there aren’t any changes in the nine offensive linemen the Falcons will carry on the 53-man roster, there are changes to the starting lineup. That’s right: after a strong preseason and impressive starting performance against Washington, I have second-year UDFA Matt Gono moving into the starting RT spot. Ty Sambrailo has been inconsistent at best this preseason, and Gono’s presence seemed to immediately elevate Atlanta’s offense.
Sambrailo will remain the team’s swing tackle, at least until rookie Kaleb McGary is healthy. If Gono continues to play well, there will be no reason to force McGary onto the field until he’s truly ready—which is the best case scenario for the Falcons. There’s still a bit of a battle going on at LG, but I’m confident that whoever wins the job between Jamon Brown and James Carpenter will be solid at worst.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 5
The most impressive unit on defense over the course of the preseason has been the defensive line, and that includes the starters and the depth players behind them. Beasley, McKinley, and Clayborn have all had strong preseasons, while Bailey and Cominsky have had their share of flashes. Unfortunately, injuries and developments elsewhere might make it very difficult for the Falcons to carry an extra EDGE—UDFAs Austin Larkin and Durrant Miles both look like players who deserve a roster spot. Hopefully one or both will make it to the practice squad.
DT - 4
As I stated above, the DL has been awesome this preseason. Jarrett has been his elite self, as expected. Behind him, Jack Crawford has been a force as a pass rusher and Tyeler Davison had one of the most impressive plays of the preseason as a run defender. Deadrin Senat seems to be a bit of a “forgotten man”, but he’s also been very good: his sack and forced fumble led to a turnover against Washington.
**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
The Falcons’ LB corps has been missing its leader throughout the entire preseason, but they’ve still managed to put together mostly solid performances. Outside of veteran Bruce Carter, who has been unable to convert his strong training camp into an impressive preseason, Atlanta has seen a lot of excellent play from their depth LBs. Jermaine Grace has all but locked up a roster spot, as he’s been the most impressive LB overall through four preseason games. Duke Riley put together an electric game against Washington after missing the first two preseason games due to injury. With Carter struggling, the door has been opened for Riley to reclaim his roster spot.
CB - 6
As long as the starters return to action in Week 1, there’s not much to worry about with this group. Trufant has been excellent, and Isaiah Oliver has shown enough to instill confidence. It seems like the team is simply being cautious with Kazee—we already know what to expect from him on the field. There’s not much room for any of the UDFAs to break in to the roster unless they can prove themselves more reliable than the versatile Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Thus far, no one has come close.
S - 5
SS Keanu Neal
FS Ricardo Allen
S Sharrod Neasman
S Kemal Ishmael
S/CB Chris Cooper
While both Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen are returning to full speed after missing almost the entire 2018 season, there are no concerns for Week 1. Behind them, the Falcons have two reliable backups in 2018 starter Sharrod Neasman and long-time contributor Kemal Ishmael. With the injuries to Kazee and rookie Kendall Sheffield, it seems more and more likely that the Falcons will carry any additional DB. Chris Cooper has been the starter in the slot in place of Kazee/Sheffield, and he’s acquitted himself quite well. Don’t be surprised if Atlanta keeps Cooper on the roster, as he’s proven himself worthy.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Giorgio Tavecchio
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris
We’re at the point where one more missed FG could end Giorgio Tavecchio’s career in Atlanta. His previous three misses were all from greater than 52 yards, and one was tipped. You can overlook that, especially in the preseason. He’s now added a 39-yard miss to his resume, and his one successful PAT was ugly as hell. Hopefully he can nail 3 straight 50+ yarders against the Jaguars and restore our faith. Meanwhile, Matt Bosher and Josh Harris have secured their jobs—Bosher in particular has been having an exceptional preseason.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 10
QB Danny Etling - While Etling has basically done next to nothing for the Falcons thus far, it seems that the team has no real interest in Matt Simms. Etling is a logical practice squad stash due to his ability to replicate the playstyle of mobile QBs.
RB Tony Brooks-James - Brooks-James hasn’t really stood out this preseason, but there’s really nobody else to predict for this spot. Don’t be surprised if Atlanta brings in another RB that winds up cut after next week’s game.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus - Zaccheaus has been impressive as a receiver—even with Danny Etling at QB—but managed to muff another punt against Washington. His path to the roster depends on his special teams acumen, and I don’t think he’s been able to push ahead of Hardy or Blake.
WR Marcus Green - Oh, Marcus Green. I really wanted him to win the return job, but it’s clear that he’s simply not ready for the NFL just yet. Green has now dropped two punts and has played only a handful of snaps on offense. He needs a year of development, but I still love his long-term potential.
C Chandler Miller - None of the other depth OL have stood out, and the Falcons will be looking for long-term potential at center. Miller has been solid despite his lack of size and has shown enough to stash on the squad.
EDGE Austin Larkin - Larkin really should be on a roster, and he likely will be when it’s all said and done. I’d love for the Falcons to be able to keep him, but there’s simply no room at this point. If Kazee and Sheffield are 100% healthy for Week 1, it’s possible he takes precedence over Chris Cooper on the 53. But otherwise, we’re probably going to lose him.
EDGE Durrant Miles - The good news for Atlanta is that even if Larkin gets poached off the squad, we have another intriguing developmental edge in Durrant Miles. While he isn’t as athletic as Larkin and hasn’t had quite as many splash plays, Miles has been very solid as both a pass rusher and run defender.
DT Justin Zimmer - Another player I think deserves to be on a 53-man roster, Justin Zimmer simply has a very difficult path in Atlanta. With both Allen Bailey and Adrian Clayborn capable of playing on the interior, I just can’t see the Falcons keeping a fifth DT. Hopefully he’ll stick around on the squad for another season.
LB Del’Shawn Phillips - Phillips has had an impressive offseason, but his chances of making the 53-man roster were always slim. Still, he’s been good enough to win this practice squad spot, and he’s likely to be the first call-up in case of injury.
CB Jayson Stanley - Even though Jayson Stanley has continued to only get a handful of snaps a game, he’s got a stronger case for this practice squad spot than any of the other CBs. Ryan Neal has been a disaster, and Taveze Calhoun has unfortunately been unable to stay healthy. Jalen Myrick may challenge for this slot, but I like Stanley’s long-term potential.
The roster is beginning to take shape, with very few changes after a strong performance from the starters against Washington. What are your thoughts on this edition of the 53-man roster? Any players who you’d move around?