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Projecting the 2020 Falcons 53 man roster and practice squad

Here’s one writer’s guess at what lies ahead for the Falcons after this weekend’s cuts.

Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

With cuts coming by the weekend, it’s definitely time to talk about the team’s projected 53 man roster and practice squad. It’s been a long, weird year, but we’re on the cusp of actual Falcons football, and roster construction is going to be vitally important this year. This team needs strong starters and (mostly) has them, but they also need talented, versatile depth and a deep, varied practice squad to get them through the season to come.

Look for Kevin Knight’s highly-anticipated (and likely more accurate) 53 man projection tomorrow afternoon. Let’s get to my projection below.

Offense: 25

QB Matt Ryan
QB Matt Schaub

I wrestled with whether to keep Benkert on the active roster, because as I wrote the other day, I think the Falcons could certainly use three guys this year with Ryan and Schaub both getting up there in age and the weirdness that a season of COVID-19 dodging promises. Ultimately, I think Benkert will be one of the two additional players eligible to be called up on gameday to actually be called up most weeks, and that he’ll hopefully not be nabbed any other team and walk into camp next year as the favorite to be Ryan’s backup.

Ryan and Schaub are obviously a more than capable tandem for this year, regardless.

RB Todd Gurley
RB Ito Smith
RB Brian Hill
RB Qadree Ollison

This is an easy one. The only real question is whether the Falcons might consider socking Ollison on the practice squad and calling him up as part of their 55 man expanded rosters when needed, but that risks losing a powerful runner we know Dirk Koetter is fond of. Gurley will be the workhorse as his legs allow, Smith a logical man to spell him and take on third down duties at times, and Hill will be the guy most likely to carry the load when Gurley’s out.

FB Keith Smith

A capable blocker and core special teamer, Smith has this job sewn up.

WR Julio Jones
WR Calvin Ridley
WR Russell Gage
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
WR Laquon Treadwell
WR Chris Rowland

Again, not a difficult group to figure out. Julio and Ridley should be one of the best tandems in football this year, with Gage getting a full year to show he’s a capable third receiver, as the team strongly believes he is. Zaccheaus is on here as the penciled-in #4 receiver because Matthew Tabeek listed him as a roster lock, which I found intriguing, and his speed could be a difference maker if Dirk Koetter uses him well. Treadwell and Rowland round things out, with the former likely taking on some snaps as a possession receiver and blocker (think Justin Hardy) and Rowland primarily serving as the team’s returner.

TE Hayden Hurst
TE Jaeden Graham
TE Luke Stocker

Hurst is a compelling breakout candidate because Koetter likes to feed tight ends and he’s at the very least an athletic and sure-handed option. Graham sticks as an intriguing receiver and improving blocker in his own right, while Stocker’s here to block and get more targets than anyone’s comfortable with.

LT Jake Matthews
LG Matt Hennessy
C Alex Mack
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McCary
G James Carpenter
G/C Justin McCray
T/G Matt Gono
T/G John Wetzel

The practice squad might be loaded with reserve offensive line options, but the Falcons can alleviate that a bit by keeping versatile reserve options on the active roster. Hennessy has the left guard job pretty sewn up if he’s healthy, I think, and the rest of this starting line was settled in January of this year, more or less.

Carpenter is the proven veteran option at guard (and has experience playing tackle, in a pinch), McCray can play center, guard, and even tackle if needed, Gono has gotten time at tackle and guard and should be the swing tackle based on his ability alone, while Wetzel can also play guard and tackle and frankly deserves not to be bounced on and off the roster for four months. This group ensures the Falcons have someone to plug and play no matter where injuries or a COVID-19 absence pop up.

Defense: 25

DE Takk McKinley
DE Dante Fowler Jr.
DE Allen Bailey
DE Steven Means
DE Charles Harris

This group is heavily dependent on Takk and Fowler. Takk is hopefully lining up for his long-awaited breakout campaign and Fowler should at least be a very capable pass rusher, but after them it’s a player coming off a bad season (Bailey), a well-rounded reserve (Means), and a former first round bust hoping to take a step forward (Harris). The Falcons are heavily counting on players rebounding or building on career years here, though they’ll least be able to mix in John Cominsky and Marlon Davidson if they need to.

DT Grady Jarrett
DT Tyeler Davison
DT Marlon Davidson
DT John Cominsky
DT Deadrin Senat

Jarrett and Davison are an extremely capable duo on run downs, and Jarrett is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL overall, period. He’s the rising tide that lifts all boats here.
Davidson promises to be a fun player sooner than later and should be a factor on passing downs early with his size, strength, and savvy, while Cominsky should mix in as a rotational pass rusher who is deeply intriguing because of his athleticism. I struggled with whether I should include Senat or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner here, given that Senat has reportedly struggled at training camp, but in the end I still think this team could use his upside and will keep him.

LB Deion Jones
LB Foye Oluokun
LB Mykal Walker
LB Deone Bucannon
LB LaRoy Reynolds

Jones is likely headed for another great season and is one of the few sure things on this defense. Oluokun will have the starting job early and is a player I like a great deal, but based on Walker’s strong camp he may get some snaps early on as well. There’s plenty of athleticism in this group, and I like Oluokun’s chances of becoming a very good starter this year now that he finally has the opportunity. Bucannon and Reynolds round things out as likely special teamers—Reynolds in particular—and key reserves.

CB A.J. Terrell
CB Isaiah Oliver
CB Darqueze Dennard
CB Kendall Sheffield
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

This is another group that has been pretty obvious for a while. Terrell and Oliver will start outside in Week 1 with Dennard handling slot receivers, and minus some early question marks about Terrell being a rookie and Oliver’s growth, that should be a capable group. Sheffield and Wreh-Wilson are very strong reserves who can play anywhere they’re needed, and Sheffield’s speed will play well on special teams unless/until he needs to take over for Oliver or someone else.

I only have the team keeping five out of the gate because I think they’ll sit tight through Jordan Miller’s two game suspension and add him to the roster thereafter if there’s a need for another player. Otherwise he may be ticketed for the practice squad for now.

S Keanu Neal
S Ricardo Allen
S Damontae Kazee
S J.J. Wilcox
S Jaylinn Hawkins

You essentially have three starting safeties here, with Neal looking to rebound after two seasons lost to injury and deliver the physicality and big play ability this secondary still desperately needs. Allen will continue to do quiet, invaluable work as the team’s free safety and Kazee figures to get plenty of run as a third safety who spells both as needed, and his ability to make plays on the ball is valuable for a team that still doesn’t have many ballhawks. Wilcox will serve a veteran insurance for Neal, in particular, while Hawkins will spend his rookie season getting limited snaps (if all goes well) on defense and serving as a core special teamer.

Special Teams: 3

K Younghoe Koo

Koo hasn’t had a challenger all offseason and goes into the year looking to prove his strong 2019 was no fluke. He may no longer be handling placekicking duties, but if he can show his leg is capable beyond 50 yards he’ll have this job all year.

P Sterling Hofrichter

The rookie has a strong leg and figures to handle kickoffs and punting duties, perhaps filling in on a long field goal or two if the need arises. He’s an interesting player and I’m hoping he’ll be able to make the transition to a post-Bosher era a smooth one.

LS Josh Harris

The most reliable man in the business at long snapper, Harris will continue to snap snappily for Atlanta throughout 2020.

Practice Squad: 16

QB Kurt Benkert
RB/FB Mikey Daniel
WR Brandon Powell
WR Christian Blake
TE Jared Pinkney
OL Sean Harlow
OL Evin Ksiezarczyk
OL Justin Gooseberry
DE Austin Edwards
DE/DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
DT Hinwa Alieu
LB Edmond Robinson
CB Josh Hawkins
CB/S Chris Cooper
S Jamal Carter
P Drew Kaser

It’s likely—nay, virtually guaranteed—that the Falcons sign more than one outside guy to the practice squad, making this a little bit of a fool’s errand. Kaser’s my guess out of the trio of punters they’ve signed, but otherwise I tried to build something realistic out of who they currently have.

Benkert is the third QB and may be active on gamedays as a practice squad callup, Daniel serves as depth at running back and fullback, Powell is a returner option, and Blake and Pinkney serve as emergency depth at receiver and tight end, respectively. Harlow, Ksiezarzyk, and Gooseberry provide (possible overkill) depth at offensive line, a position group where the need for depth is evident, even with the versatile set of reserves I have the team keeping.

On defense, Edwards and Alieu have real promise and are worth keeping around, while Tuioti-Mariner is a logical gameday callup because of his versatility and ability to play stout defense against the run. Robinson has physicality and is a worthwhile keeper for linebacker, while Cooper fills the versatile secondary reserve role and Carter’s here as an emergency callup at safety and a capable special teamer if one is needed. Hawkins is here until Jordan Miller returns as a veteran option at corner.

Finally, Kaser is the team’s emergency punter, and I think he’s the smart choice because he has a real track record of success at the position.

Overall, this is a strong roster, albeit ones with significant questions at a couple of spots on the offensive line and virtually eveywhere on defense. The hope is that this veteran, talented offense can fare better than it did a year ago, and that the many things that need to click on defense do, at least enough to put together an average year on that side of the ball. I’m bullish on the team’s potential, overall, but there will be much for this roster (or whatever roster the Falcons land on) to prove in 2020.