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UDFAs face a difficult path to making the 53-man roster in 2020

Navigating between an abnormal offseason and non-existent preseason.

The sports world, like much of the real world, is facing unprecedented times due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it comes to football, the NFL faced the early challenge of hosting the 2020 NFL Draft practically virtual and away from the host city of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Following the 2020 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons signed 20 undrafted free agents who were not selected in the draft itself but would receive the opportunity to continue on their ultimate goal of making it onto an NFL roster. In normal years, UDFAs have a minuscule chance of actually making the roster in their first year, and typically either land on the team’s practice squad or get cut from the team’s roster and attempt to pursue opportunities elsewhere.

Due to NFL precautions for training camps which started earlier this week, the Falcons decided to trim their roster to 80 players instead of staying at 90 players and splitting their camp into two. With that, the Falcons released veteran punter Ryan Allen, defensive end Austin Larkin and six undrafted rookies who signed with the team following the most recent draft. These UDFA’s received no real on-field action to prove their value and their time with the Falcons was primarily spent in virtual meetings from their respective homes before traveling to Flowery Branch for what they thought would be training camp, which only turned into a few days at camp.

With no preseason taking place, the undrafted free agents have no NFL on-field action to display and barely anything to show from their time in camp. Falcons’ head coach Dan Quinn was asked in a transcript provided by the team if teams would share scrimmage videos with other teams to help evaluate players who may not make the final 53-man roster.

“No chance of that. Not like a maybe, no chance,” Dan Quinn said. “It’s going to be difficult because quite honestly, there are going to be some ball players that aren’t going to play in an NFL game until 2021 that are on someone’s practice squad this year. Maybe they get up, but I’d imagine with a roster and a practice squad that deep, they didn’t get the preseason games to go. So, when a player does get released from another club, you’re going off of his college evaluation or his pro evaluation from the season prior. I still think there will be players that get claimed – you had a higher grade on him or something different – but not in the sense of sharing current film for a player to be able to do that.”

In years past, it was near impossible for undrafted rookies to make a teams final 53-man roster in their first season, and that’s with a preseason. With their worth being shown only in camp for the next month and given the nature of this offseason, the path to making the final roster for UDFA’s is a treacherous one.

“I think you’re wanting to see those traits. Like, ‘alright, he’s got the knowledge now. He’s gone through the program.’ When you’re seeing him match up, there could be some creative matchups from the coaching staff to see some highlights and one-on-ones – run to here or throw it to there. We’ll do a little setup. ‘Let’s put runners on second and third and put the guy at the plate at practice,’ so to speak. We’re going to have to find ways to put people in spaces where it’s going to go – we’ll always do that in situation – I’m not talking about two-minute end of half or end of game, but specific to a player. We can control some of that in a scrimmage situation. ‘Alright, this is a shot play outside.’ ‘Let’s see so-and-so run that play.’ ‘Let’s get a matchup with a running back and a linebacker.’ Those are things where we will try to have to create some when we can.”

Earlier this offseason, I spoke with many of the Falcons’ UDFAs such as running back Mikey Daniel, tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk, linebacker Jordan Williams, defensive end Austin Edwards, defensive tackles Sailosi Latu and Hinwa Allieu. Since then, Williams was unfortunately released as the team moved to cut the roster to 80 players, and the rest are still trying compete for at worst a practice squad spot, which will now hold 16 players. In a normal year, I do think Daniel and Edwards could’ve made the final 53-man roster, and it’s possible that they still might. It’s going to be a challenging next couple of weeks for these young men to prove their value strictly on the practice field.