It’s time to talk practice squad, which I’m sure will put a spring in your step this afternoon. This year’s edition of the practice squad for the Falcons and every other NFL team will feature a whopping 16 players, and teams will likely carry more veterans than usual in order to give themselves as much depth as possible. Here, I’ll do my best to project the group.
As a reminder, the final six spots on the practice squad have no restrictions in terms of service time as an NFL player. I expect the Falcons to exploit that to an extent, but perhaps not stock all six spots with veterans. Let’s check out my list, and be sure to read Kevin Knight’s 53 man roster projection from yesterday (and defer to it where we might disagree).
QB Kurt Benkert
QB Danny Etling
I do think this is what the Falcons will ultimately do this year. With the expanded practice squad they have a rare opportunity to carry two developmental players they like at quarterback, while keeping Matt Schaub on the active roster in case something happens to Matt Ryan. Schaub showed a year ago he can still sling it, while Benkert and Etling both have enough promise to keep around and provide the team with real depth in case COVID-19 ravages the veterans.
HB/FB Mikey Daniel
Daniel wins out here because of his versatility. The Falcons will have four backs stacked up and Keith Smith starting at fullback, in all likelihood, but Daniel was quietly a very good runner and blocker in college and could fill in at either spot if the need arises.
WR Christian Blake
WR Brandon Powell
Blake’s here because despite a shaky 2019, the team has favorably compared him to their veteran receivers and are likely interested in keeping him around for another year. Powell’s here because he’s speedy and will provides insurance at returner if Chris Rowland, Olamide Zaccheaus, or both ultimately miss time. I think Zaccheaus showed enough last year to stick and Rowland was so good as a returner in college that he’s the favorite for the gig, even in this weird summer.
TE Khari Lee
Jared Pinkney might be a logical stash, but his potential is considerable and the Falcons would presumably hate to lose him to another team by stashing him on the practice squad. Lee’s limited history in football tells us he’s a capable blocker and he could be an option if someone gets sick/hurt at tight end.
OL John Wetzel
OL Sean Harlow
OL Evin Ksiezarczyk
OL Justin Gooseberry
This is a mixed bag with a proven veteran option, an unproven but familiar face for the interior of the line, and a tackle prospect. Wetzel has played more or less every position on the line at some point in his career and has starting experience, making him one of the ideal players to be this year’s “break in case of emergency” players, as well as one of the players the Falcons can carry on the practice squad despite his veteran status.
Harlow can play center and guard and has hung around long enough that his familiarity with the offense is likely an asset. Predicting who will emerge from the group of UDFA offensive linemen is a tough call, but I do think Ksiezarcyzk’s skillset makes him intriguing over the long haul, even if I don’t want to always have to spell his name.
It was correctly pointed out to me that because Charles Harris has a fully guaranteed salary, he’s not likely to be cut. In that case, rather than sub another DE, I go with an intriguing fourth offensive lineman in Gooseberry, a player with size and agility who deserves a longer look.
DE Austin Larkin
DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
Harris is another logical candidate for time on the practice squad, even if the team’s trade for him suggests they like him enough to carry him on the active roster. His production has been less than stellar but he’d be solid enough as a reserve on this defense if an emergency arose.
Larkin remains worth developing and I tend to think the coaching staff will agree with me there. Tuioti-Mariner is a capable run stopper who can play inside and outside and would be a logical addition to the active roster if the Falcons lost anyone on the defensive line during the season.
LB Edmond Robinson
So long as Mykal Walker is healthy by the time the season starts, he makes it, and LaRoy Reynolds was signed specifically to be a key cog on special teams. That leaves Deone Bucannon versus Robinson, and I think Bucannon’s potential winds up intriguing the coaching staff enough to land him the last spot. Robinson is an interesting, physical linebacker who provides semi-veteran insurance behind that group.
CB Rojesterman Farris
CB/S Chris Cooper
S Ray Wilborn
Farris and Wilborn are two of the most intriguing players in the entire crop of undrafted free agents. Farris is a sure tackler and plus athlete who frequently found a way to get his hands on the ball in college, while Wilborn has size and physicality that would make him a very interesting long-term prospect at safety, where the Falcons could be short on quality options a year from now thanks to free agency and a shrinking salary cap.
Cooper’s here as a veteran fill-in at cornerback or safety, depending on where he’s most needed, and that versatility could matter a lot this year.