When the Falcons finalized their 53-man roster on Saturday, there were not too many surprises. The starters and key backups were already known going into the season, as is the case most years. However, the battle for the last receiver and running back spots was one of the few areas where we felt there could be some interesting developments.
An unexpected development was the team opting to carry 6 wide receivers and 6 running backs. Don’t get me wrong, carrying 6 receivers was probably a foregone conclusion. The fact that Marcus Green failed to secure the returner spot on special teams basically guaranteed that Kenjon Barner would get the job, so his listing as a running back is more a formality than a belief he’ll actually get meaningful snaps at running back.
It was a bit surprising that the team kept fullback Ricky Ortiz, especially since the team kept signaling that they would try to use guys like Luke Stocker and/or Jaeden Graham in that capacity. It seemed to spell an impending cut for Ortiz, but his value on special teams and perhaps underwhelming performances from Stocker and Graham at fullback spared his roster spot.
With all this taken into consideration, I still think it’s unlikely the team will stay with this configuration for the entire season. Here are some potential goals and developments that could reshape this part of the roster during the 2019 season.
Change at returner
One thing was clear during the preseason: the team wanted Marcus Green to take the kick and punt return duties. However, several muffed punts and an overall underwhelming preseason performance from Marcus Green had the team opting to go with veteran Kenjon Barner instead.
That said, I doubt the team has fundamentally changed their goals. They drafted Green for a reason and so long as he can be stashed on the practice squad, it seems very likely the coaches will continue to give him an opportunity to prove himself during practices. The team knows that Barner is not a long-term option for them, but he’s the best option for right now. Should any of the other receivers like Powell, Blake or Zaccheaus begin to look like a viable option to return punts and kickoffs, the team may opt to move on from Barner in favor of a younger player with more upside.
Running back trade?
There were rumblings in the preseason that the Falcons could look to get some trade value out of one of their running backs. The most likely names to be traded are Brian Hill or Ito Smith. It seems less likely to happen now, but the violence of the NFL season can quickly change those fortunes. I’m not going to say this is likely, but the fact that it was being entertained in the preseason means we should at least keep it in mind as the season gets going. Should the Falcons get some trade value for someone like Brian Hill, they may decide to jump on it, particularly with the depth they now have at the position.
Stocker or Graham improves at FB
While Ortiz is safe for now, the Falcons do love positional flexibility. It’s clear that they were strongly considering the idea of Stocker or Graham at fullback and I doubt that they’ve dropped the idea entirely. The team could continue to have Stocker and Graham take snaps at fullback during practices and if either guy begins to show them what they want, they may opt to move on from Ortiz mid-season, especially if another position begins to seem weak on depth.
However, this move may make more sense to execute in the 2020 off-season than during the season. The likelihood of this happening may depend on the need to fill a position elsewhere on the roster during the season.
Your thoughts on the current composition at receiver and running back?