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Falcons protect TE Jared Pinkney, OL Sean Harlow and 2 others for Week 13

All four players this week are familiar names for one reason or another.

NFL: Preseason-Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Every week, as we’ve noted nearly every week, the Falcons have the option of protecting four practice squad players from the prying hands of other football teams. Thus far in 2020, they’ve chosen to protect a couple of players every time out, with the other two featuring a rotating cast of players.

The two most familiar faces here are Kurt Benkert and Chris Rowland. Benkert is an athletic, strong-armed developmental option who has spent the past three seasons with Atlanta either as a practice squad player or on injured reserve. He’ll likely be a player the next Falcons regime considers as an option to back up Matt Ryan, given his experience and talent.

The second familiar player is Chris Rowland, a hyper-productive college receiver and returner the team has taken pains to hold on to. In Rowland, the Falcons have a player the next regime might be interested in as a kick and punt return option, as well as a speedy weapon who might be able to latch on to the final receiver spot currently occupied by Brandon Powell.

There are also two names that haven’t cropped up as often.

Pinkney is a player I’ve been legitimately intrigued by since the Falcons picked him up as an undrafted free agent this spring. The gifted tight end was once expected to be one of the first players at his position drafted in 2020, but awful quarterback play in 2019 effectively doomed his draft status. He’ll have the entire year to develop on the practice squad, but only Hayden Hurst is under contract next year for Atlanta, possibly paving the way for him to grab a roster spot in 2021 if he can re-join and impress the next coaching staff.

The last man on the list is the immortal Sean Harlow, who is probably being protected because James Carpenter is injured at the moment. Harlow was a fourth round selection for the Falcons back in the ill-fated 2017 draft, brought aboard as an athletic developmental lineman. He’s since spent most of the past four seasons with the Falcons in one capacity or another, basically sitting and waiting for an opportunity that has yet to come. If the next coaching staff likes what he’s become over the past four seasons, they may well give him a shot to compete for a job along what’s likely to be a very different Falcons interior offensive line, given that Alex Mack will probably move on, James Carpenter may not be back, and most of the depth options are not under contract.