Hot takes are easier to dispense in preseason when the consequences aren’t so weighty for this football team, so let’s get to dispensing them. Here’s what I came away with in my addled brain after four quarters of (blissfully, final) preseason action in Week 4. You’ll note that there are only two this week, with an explanation at the end.
Jermaine Grace has sewn up not just a roster spot, but a role
You cannot talk me out of this. Grace didn’t make this Falcons roster before, but on his return he’s taken his already acknowledged special teams skills and paired them with striking growth on defense.
His pick six of Gardner Minshew that wasn’t didn’t count in the box score, but it was another athletic, heady play in a summer full of them. Grace has done nothing but elbow other guys out of the way, pushing his way past promising rookies Yurik Bethune and Tre’ Crawford, holding his own against the also very impressive Del’Shawn Phillips, outplaying veterans like Bruce Carter and to a lesser extent Duke Riley, and making the most of every single chance he’s gotten. He’s on this roster, and the athleticism and skill he’s shown this summer should ensure that he actually gets onto the field for this football team, be it Dan Quinn or Ben Kotwica.
The Falcons are going to keep five backs
This one has been percolating for a while, and I was a little reluctant to accept it given that RB is no longer one of the most coveted positions on the field. But with Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, and Brian Hill seemingly locked in to spots based on the fact that none of them played Thursday night, Qadree Ollison’s big day was meaningful. Had he just showed that he can run well it would’ve been intriguing but not necessarily impactful, but Ollison also threw some nice blocks. With the team potentially foregoing the traditional fullback position altogether, Ollison’s ability to play there a little bit alongside Luke Stocker and maybe Jaeden Graham should earn him a spot.
With Marcus Green wilting mightily this summer—though I still like his long-term potential—it seems at least one of the returner gigs will be going to Kenjon Barner. Tony Brooks-James made his case Thursday night not by returning the ball—which he didn’t get much of a chance to do—but by running it exceptionally well. If the Falcons think he can be a useful returner, it’s always possible they dump Barner for him, but it remains a longshot. Barner not getting time Thursday indicates he’s already locked in.
All told, that’s five backs, and the Falcons don’t seem like they’ll be particularly inclined to just cut Ollison and hope they can get him on the practice squad. We’ll see if they can do anything interesting with that many guys, or if they buck expectations and trade one away.
So why just two takes? The truth is that there are few surprises left. Giorgio Tavecchio and Blair Walsh must give way to Matt Bryant, the competitors are pretty much every key position have been whittled down, and whoever wins the DE and WR jobs that are left will be a deserving candidate. Let’s be thankful there aren’t more shocking truths to be revealed about this roster before the season begins.