The Falcons are three weeks away from their season opener against the Seahawks, which in 2020 time might as well be three days or three years. The upshot is that we’re actually close to NFL football, and if you’re excited at this point I could hardly blame you.
The Falcons still have much to do. We’ll talk more about Dirk Koetter and Raheem Morris in the coming days and weeks, but today I wanted to concentrate on the position battles of consequence for this football team that need to be settled over the next three weeks.
It’s down to Matt Schaub and Kurt Benkert here, and I think the widespread expectation is that Schaub wins the gig and Benkert spends one more season on the practice squad. That’s not a settled matter just yet, not with Danny Etling gone and Benkert reportedly faring well in practice.
Ito Smith is the expected #2 for Todd Gurley and perhaps the most logical complement to him, given his shiftiness and pass catching ability (38 receptions and a sterling 82.6% catch rate in 21 games). The Falcons have liked what they’ve seen from Brian Hill, who has reportedly look very sharp in practices, and Qadree Ollison, a clear Dirk Koetter-influenced selection who is a powerful runner and short yardage option. For all intents and purposes, this group is likely to all mix in at some point when Gurley’s resting, but the depth chart pecking order isn’t settled just yet.
My guess? Still Ito, then Hill, then Ollison. If Gurley goes down, heaven forbid, it’ll be interesting to see whether Hill or Ollison is the primary beneficiary.
It appears to be down to James Carpenter and rookie Matt Hennessy. Matt Gono should be in the competition and nominally is, but the decision to play him some at left tackle in practice suggests he’s getting more consideration as a super substitute and potential swing tackle candidate than a starter. Jamon Brown’s absence likely guarantees he’s not nailing down the job at this point, too.
Hennessy would be preferred as a starter because he’s the future at center and experience this year should help him transition into that role next year, while Carpenter was mediocre a year ago and probably won’t be here next year by dint of his contract. The Falcons have not indicated one way or the other where they’re going just yet, however.
Ty Sambrailo is gone, which leaves Matt Gono, John Wetzel, Justin McCray, and maybe Jamon Brown competing for a reserve tackle role, plus recent addition Ka’John Armstrong and a couple of UDFAs. My guess would be that if Gono isn’t a serious contender for the starting left guard role, he’ll walk away with this one given his blend of talent and experience. That’s especially true because Wetzel, McCray, and Brown are all better players inside.
It’s between Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield and it’s not settled, even if I tend to lean toward Oliver snagging the job early on in the year. Sheffield is coming on strong the last couple of days in practice after recovering from his mild injury, while Oliver continues to draw praise from the coaching staff for his readiness after two up-and-down seasons. This is one I do think will come down to the wire.
This is between Chris Rowland and Brandon Powell, per the team. I would greatly prefer that Rowland won that gig because he has intriguing upside as a receiver and returner alike and Powell has shown less promise in the former role, but we’ve received no indication which one is winning that role at this point.
Speaking of areas in which we have no real intelligence to go off of, the practice squad! We know the team will keep 16 players and we know that they may lean toward veterans more this year with the COVID-related exceptions to the usual service time, but there hasn’t been a ton of indication where the team is leaning.
My recent prediction is off by three players already, given that Austin Larkin, Danny Etling, and Rojesterman Farris have been released, but I still the broad contours of the positions they’ll prioritize in there are accurate.
How do you expect these to shake out over the coming weeks?