When Dan Quinn finishes intensely chomping on tape with his mighty jaws, he’ll likely see largely the same thing we did in real-time: Tremendous efforts from a handful of young players. From there, he can either prioritize playing time for those young guys to see what comes next, or he can pivot to some of the lesser lights and players who didn’t get as much run to see what they’re made of.
If he chooses that first path, there are a handful of players deserving of a longer look. Here are five that particularly need to have prominent roles in the weeks ahead.
RB Brian Hill
Hill has done everything he can to this point. He came into camp clearly behind Ito Smith and likely Qadree Ollison on the team’s running back pecking order, but this just goes to show that presumptive favorites are just that. Hill has shown improved ability as a pass catcher, working effectively in practice, and he looked like the team’s most dynamic runner and a fine receiving back on Thursday night. Combined with his work on special teams, it was enough to make you wonder if Hill can push his way all the way onto the roster and into a role, though it’s still likely an uphill battle for him.
He’s earned the opportunity to get major snaps the next couple of weeks and see if he can keep it up.
T Matt Gono
Pro Football Focus grades for offensive linemen aren’t always the gold standard, but it’s worth noting that Gono pulled down the top offensive grade for the Falcons on Thursday night and looked, at times, like the only offensive lineman who belonged on the field. Gono was good last year in limited action as a rookie and seems to have gotten better in the interim, making him an intriguing candidate for swing tackle as early as 2020 and a fine insurance policy this year with Kaleb McGary’s short-term outlook unknown. I’d like to see more of him.
DL John Cominsky
Glaringly obvious, and given Dan Quinn’s obvious man crush on the rookie, I expect he’s going to get all the run he can handle. Cominsky is incredibly nimble and fast for a man of his size and will benefit from playing time given that he came into the league with that “raw” label that has plagued many disappointing young Falcons defensive linemen over the years. With his stellar first effort and standout special teams performance, it’d be a surprise if Cominsky isn’t near the top of the team in snaps each of the next four weeks.
LB Jermaine Grace
Grace flew under the radar for me a bit on Thursday night, but he deserves praise for a good all-around game. What makes Grace such an interesting player is that he’s clearly a capable linebacker and his reputation for quality special teams play followed him to the NFL from college, and new ST coordinator Ben Kotwica is going to be looking for some guys he can rely on in that regard. With Kemal Ishmael splitting time between linebacker and safety and Duke Riley and Bruce Carter no sure thing for a roster spot, Grace and rookies Yurik Bethune, Del’Shawn Phillips, and Tre’ Crawford ought to get a ton of run.