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Chris Rowland might be the next Falcons UDFA success story

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The sparkplug from Tennessee State is coming off a record-breaking college career and should compete for a role as a receiver and returner.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Jackson State v Tennessee State Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, we took a closer look at Jared Pinkney, the gifted Vanderbilt tight end who had a lousy senior year thanks to injury and factors largely outside his control, and opined that he would have a strong chance of sticking on this Falcons roster. Today, I wanted to talk about another player who figures to have a strong chance of latching on to the final roster: Former Tennessee State wide receiver Chris Rowland.

Rowland received the largest UDFA signing bonus of anyone in the current crop of players, which suggests Atlanta was high on him. Part of that is based on need, because Rowland is a fine returner who cashed in over 500 yards and 2 touchdowns on kick and punt returns in his final college season, and the Falcons don’t have any compelling options on the roster to take on those roles. The second part is that Rowland is a legitimately interesting receiver on a team that is still in need of more talent at the position.

Let’s start with that last part. He broke Jerry Rice’s HBCU receptions record for a single season in 2019, reeling in 104 receptions for 1,437 yards and 8 touchdowns. He’s not exactly a towering player at 5’8”, but he’s a savvy route runner and extremely fast, and Olamide Zaccheaus showed last year that height is no obstacle to phenomenal catches. Considering the Falcons are likely to carry six receivers and beyond Zaccheaus things are profoundly unsettled, Rowland’s production and skillset gives him a solid chance to stick.

That might be enough to stick—Brandon Powell, Devin Gray, and Christian Blake haven’t blown anyone’s doors off and the incoming crop of UDFAs are largely an unknown—but it’s when you add the return ability that Rowland becomes an early favorite for a spot. He averaged 25 yards per kick return and 11.9 yards per punt return last year, and he’s joining a roster where the chief competition for those gigs are Powell (4 career returns in the NFL) and maybe Zaccheaus (35 moderately productive kick returns in college). That kind of special teams value not only gets you a 5th or 6th receiver role, but helps ensure you’re active on gameday.

Rowland will be guaranteed nothing, but he and Pinkney may well continue a recent run of UDFA success on offense for Atlanta. After years of having guys like Brandyn Harvey, Bernard Reedy, and J.D. McKissic impress but ultimately not hang around, the Falcons have added players like Blake, Zaccheaus, and Jaeden Graham as receiving options who have managed to hang on to spots and contribute. Given his special teams value and legitimately interesting skills, Rowland should be next up.