After a 14-10 preseason loss to the Denver Broncos in the NFL’s Hall of Fame game, I’m back once again to deliver an updated roster projection for the Falcons. We saw very little from the starters, instead getting an extended look at nearly all the depth players on the roster. As you might expect, this first game didn’t affect the 53-man roster all that much—but it had major implications for the practice squad.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the Falcons’ projected 53-man roster (plus practice squad!) after the NFL Hall of Fame Game.
Changes from my last projection will be marked with italics.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
Matt Ryan will remain the unquestioned starter for years to come, because he’s elite. Anyone who thinks otherwise is ignoring the data. Matt Schaub, on the other hand, looked god awful in his first preseason action of 2019. Schaub went an abysmal 4/14 for only 10 yards and an INT against mostly backups, which makes the injury to Kurt Benkert (who looked very good) all the more terrifying. There are still four more preseason games for Schaub to prove himself, but the first glimpse was very, very bad.
RB - 4
Devonta Freeman didn’t play at all in the Hall of Fame game, but he remains the unquestioned starter heading into the season. In the same vein, we saw only a few reps for Ito Smith, who is the presumptive RB2. The competition behind those two is pretty wide open, but the heavy favorites have to be rookie Qadree Ollison and Brian Hill. Hill was the best RB on the field during Thursday’s game and has been impressive throughout training camp—he’s inching closer to being a roster lock. Ollison didn’t look inspiring in his first NFL game action, but his status as a recent draft pick and the lack of opportunities for both veteran Kenjon Barner and UDFA Tony Brooks-James seems to indicate that he’s pretty safe in 2019.
TE - 4
No changes to this group, as the starters didn’t really play and the TEs who made plays are likely fighting for a practice squad spot. Hooper is the locked in TE1, while Stocker is a versatile TE2 who can play the FB position as well. Saubert has been impressing in training camp, while Paulsen is a reliable blocker who can be a factor in 2-TE sets.
WR - 6
The Falcons’ league-leading trio took exactly zero snaps during the Hall of Fame game, and they remain locked in to their roles. Jones, Ridley, and Sanu form a dominant tandem that will be nearly impossible for teams to effectively cover in 2019. The action starts at WR4-6, where there’s a fierce competition brewing amongst a big group of competent players. Russell Gage appears to be safe after an impressive offseason and his status as a special teams ace.
The final two spots are totally up for grabs, but I feel strongly that Marcus Green is slotted for one of them due to his athleticism and return ability. At WR6, the favorite has to be veteran Justin Hardy—but that’s boring! The most impressive receiver during Thursday’s game was Christian Blake, who pulled in 5 catches for 46 yards on a team-leading 6 targets (tied with UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus). Atlanta brought him back after a solid preseason in 2018, and he’s acquitted himself very well thus far. This is one of the most interesting battles to monitor this preseason.
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
Two injuries have caused a shuffle in starters on the Falcons’ offensive line, but the players the team will keep are largely the same. With Carpenter’s injury, it seems likely that Jamon Brown will take over the starting LG job for good—moving Carpenter to a reserve role. This is likely the best fit for both players long-term, as Atlanta has a more significant financial commitment to Brown going forward. Meanwhile, Kaleb McGary’s heart procedure is likely to keep him sidelined throughout training camp at least—meaning that he’s unlikely to overtake veteran Ty Sambrailo for the starting job. Sambrailo has been shaky in camp but had a strong finish to 2018—perhaps McGary will take over once he’s healthy, but that’s unlikely to be Week 1.
The other depth remains the same. Wes Schweitzer has seized control of the backup center job and has looked totally competent there, virtually guaranteeing his roster spot. Matt Gono has been arguably the most impressive of the depth OTs, giving him a leg up for the final OL roster spot.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 5
The Falcons bolstered their EDGE rotation significantly with the addition of free agent Allen Bailey, who had a career 6-sack season for the Chiefs in 2018. Bailey gives the Falcons another veteran presence on the outside while also offering the flexibility to play inside as a 3T in both 4-3 and 3-4 looks. The good news otherwise is that Vic Beasley has been having a very impressive camp, and Takk McKinley appears primed for a breakout season. Behind them, rookie John Cominsky was the most impressive player on defense during the Hall of Fame game: his athleticism stood out as a pass rusher and as a special teams player, where he was one of the first players to the ball on coverage teams. All of the sudden, this group doesn’t fill me with dread me anymore.
DT - 5
The starters didn’t see much action during the Hall of Fame game outside of Deadrin Senat, who looked pretty darn good against backups. The only significant change here is making room for DT Justin Zimmer, who had an impressive night with 5 total tackles and 0.5 sacks. Zimmer was getting reps at both 1T and 3T, showcasing his versatility—perhaps he’s finally found out how to unlock his athletic potential. Many fans have clamored for Ra’Shede Hageman to get this final spot, but with his injury and his suspension, the opportunity for him to claw his way back onto the roster is looking very slim.
LB - 5
No changes to this group—yet. The top-3 are virtually set in stone, as Oluokun proved himself as a starter in 2018. Behind them is a pretty intriguing competition, with the Falcons bringing in even more bodies over the past week. Duke Riley remains sidelined with an injury and unable to compete—it’s hard to say whether this will actually hurt him or help him, however. I maintain that Bruce Carter is safe as a veteran presence who can play all three LB positions, but the final spot is wide open. I still have Jermaine Grace ahead after an up-and-down game where he made plays but struggled in coverage and committed a dumb penalty, but veteran Stephone Anthony is right behind him.
CB - 6
After starting out as a position of great concern for many Falcons fans heading into the preseason, CB suddenly looks like it could be a position of strength. The top 3 starters didn’t see the field, but the depth behind them looks solid. Rookie Kendall Sheffield had one of the most impressive performances of the day, playing tight coverage and even forcing a fumble with a strong tackle. Fellow rookie Jordan Miller was good in coverage, but struggled a bit as a tackler—he’ll need to continue to build up his strength during the preseason. This group is all but totally settled, with versatile veteran Blidi Wreh-Wilson rounding out the group.
S - 4
SS Keanu Neal
FS Ricardo Allen
S Sharrod Neasman
S Kemal Ishmael
With the unfortunate loss of J.J. Wilcox, who the team apparently saw as their third safety and the primary backup for Keanu Neal, there’s been a bit of a shuffle. Veteran Kemal Ishmael—who has played LB over the past few seasons but began his career at safety—has transitioned back to the secondary and is taking the majority of reps with the second team. Sharrod Neasman appears to have a strong grip on the backup job behind Ricardo Allen.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Giorgio Tavecchio
P Matt Bosher
LS Josh Harris
Giorgio Tavecchio missed a difficult 54-yard FG attempt (outdoors, it should be noted), which sent shivers down many Falcons’ fans spines. However, Tavecchio rebounded by making his second attempt and by nailing his lone PAT. He will also, apparently, be handling kickoff duties from now on—which is a shame since we will no longer get to see Matt Bosher body slam opposing returners. Josh Harris’ competition at LS—UDFA Kyle Vasey—was cut earlier this week to make room for injury replacements, which means he’s totally safe going into 2019.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 10
QB Matt Simms - With Kurt Benkert’s injury likely to keep him out for the majority of the season, this spot pretty much goes to free agent Matt Simms by default (if he still has eligibility). Simms hasn’t been particularly inspiring in past preseasons, but perhaps he’s gotten better?
RB Tony Brooks-James - Brooks-James didn’t really get any opportunities on offense during the Hall of Fame game—which is a pretty big sign that he’s not competing for a roster spot. Still, Atlanta hasn’t brought in any other RB competition, making Brooks-James a clear choice for the practice squad.
TE Jaeden Graham - The most impressive TE during Thursday’s game was Graham, who logged 2 catches for 22 yards on 3 targets. He’s young and still has developmental potential, making him a solid stash.
WR Olamide Zaccheaus - Zaccheaus could still find his way onto the roster with four preseason games to go, but for now I think he’s got a practice squad floor at worst. He’s athletic, young, and versatile—everything you look for in a practice squad WR.
C Chandler Miller - Miller is clearly a talented center who lacks ideal size and play strength for the NFL. The Falcons would be wise to stash him and give him a year with an NFL conditioning program to see if they can get something out of him in 2020.
EDGE Yurik Bethune - After a relatively quiet offseason, EDGE/LB hybrid Yurik Bethune had a standout performance during Thursday’s game with 2 solo tackles, 1.0 sacks, and 1 TFL. He’ll need to continue to impress over the course of the preseason, but games like that get you on a practice squad.
DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner - Atlanta clearly likes Tuioti-Mariner, who they brought back after a relatively quiet 2018 preseason. With Justin Zimmer making the roster, Tuioti-Mariner could stick around due to his athleticism and versatility.
LB Tre’ Crawford - Among the practice squad-eligible LBs, several players had impressive games. But Crawford paired a solid performance with his overall strong offseason and start to camp, which is enough to keep him in this spot. I like his long-term potential at SAM.
CB Jayson Stanley - One of two players with a pass deflection, Jayson Stanley didn’t find his way onto the field until late in the game. However, with everything on the line, Stanley delivered—preventing a TD in the process. The same can’t be said for Ryan Neal. As a conversion project, Quinn is more likely to overlook small issues and focus on the big picture. I like Stanley as a future contributor on the outside—his 6’2, 207 frame can’t be taught, and he’s clearly got good instincts for the position.
S Parker Baldwin - Baldwin had an up-and-down game in coverage, but looked like one of the standouts among the reserves with 4 total tackles and 1 TFL. He was always around the ball and has pretty good size, making him a logical stash for the Falcons.
While there were only minor changes to the Falcons’ 53-man roster, we saw significant movement on the practice squad after our first glimpse of preseason action. Give us your thoughts on these projected changes in the comments. Who are some players you think deserve a spot on the roster/practice squad? Any standouts, good or bad, from the first preseason game?