The initial 53 man roster for the Falcons looks pretty good, on paper. We’d be lying if we said there weren’t areas of concern, of course, but we’re Falcons fans and we’re going to find stuff to worry about regardless.
What are the strongest and weakest position groups on this roster, as it stands today? Our staff roundtable weighed in, and we have a range of opinions on that particular question.
Strongest: Wide receiver
Weakest: Tight end
I had this written out more or less before cuts rolled in. Wide receiver features Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, a promising third option in Russell Gage, and carries really intriguing depth. I was not expecting Brandon Powell and Christian Blake to make it, but Powell should at least be a solid 6th option and the team loves Blake, who did at least annoy the hell out of Marshon Lattimore a year ago.
Tight end, meanwhile, may well prove to be a quality position but is inarguably the shakiest position on the team on paper. Hayden Hurst is 27 years old and has 43 receptions in two seasons, Jaeden Graham is an interesting but largely unproven reserve, and Luke Stocker is a fine blocker but not a receiving option I want to see deployed with any regularity. So much will depend on whether Hurst can take a step forward.
Honestly, I think the strongest is wide receiver. But just to be different, I’m going to say the quarterback position is the strongest. Even if he doesn’t get the national recognition that he deserves, Matt Ryan is still one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL. Behind him, Matt Schaub who refuses to retire is an ideal backup veteran quarterback. He statically remains the best quarterback in Houston Texans history, until Deshaun Watson passes him of course. In 2019 when he filled in for Ryan against the Seattle Seahawks, Schaub threw for 460 yards in the 20-27 loss. Although I’m pro-Kurt Benkert, and really hope they bring him back to Atlanta, Schaub is a good backup.
We all know how great Younghoe Koo’s onside kick ability is. It’s a weapon. I just wish the team would’ve brought in some form of competition for him to beat out. He had only one attempt of 50+ in 2019, and he barely made it. I mean, they even brought in competition at punter, and mentioned bringing in competition at kicker – but ultimately decided against it. You’d think they’d learn from the Giorgio Tavecchio-Matt Bryant situation, but I guess not.
Strongest: Wide Receiver
As of now, before week one, the wide receiver spot is the cream of the crop on the Falcons roster. When you’re able to trot out the duo of Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, you’re able to stick your chest out a bit. Both are dynamic receivers with the ability to take over a game at any given moment. The depth behind them is speedy to say the least although there are a few questions marks.
Is it possible to have the weakest position while also possessing a future Hall-of-Famer within it? For the sake of the article, yes. While Matt Ryan has been extremely productive over the course of his career, I will admit that the quarterback spot has me worried. For a few seasons now, the team has anointed veteran Matt Schaub as the permanent backup while also not bringing in much competition to push him. The adoration that the team has for Schaub is puzzling to me. Matt Ryan is not a spring chicken himself and we witnessed the worst case scenario last season with Ryan getting pummeled through the season and actually missing a game. Yes, Schaub filled in well for one game in a loss to Seattle but can anyone convincingly say that they would trust Schaub to lead the team for an extended period of time?
- Eric Robinson
Strongest: Wide Receiver
Weakest: Tight End
I normally prefer going against the grain in exercises such as this one, offering a different perspective and a different answer as opposed to the favored one. However, when it comes to discussing the strongest position group on Atlanta’s team, all roads lead back to the wide receivers by a considerable margin. Julio Jones is the best WR in the game, and it feels like Calvin Ridley is ready to ascend to a level of a WR1, with the ability to be a playoff team’s best receiving option. Add in Russell Gage, who has made his own ascension into a steady and sturdy WR3 after entering the league as a Special Teams gunner and you have the recipe for a group which will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
On the flip side, the most unproven position on the team is the tight end group. Hayden Hurst is a popular breakout candidate, and Jaeden Graham has proven that he belongs on an NFL roster (through his great preseason last year), but until we see the production on the field, it’s fair to remain skeptical. This is a trio who combined to record 551 receiving yards and three TDs last season. Among them, nobody has ever recorded more than 349 receiving yards in a single season.
- Adnan Ikic
Strongest: Wide Receiver
Weakest: Running back
The strongest position seems so self-explanatory that it’s hard to argue for any other position. You have a future first-ballot Hall of Famer in Julio Jones, a rising star in Calvin Ridley and a very intriguing third option in Russell Gage. Plus, the depth has improved with young guys with upside, such as Olamide Zaccheus and Christian Blake. If the Falcons do eventually add Mohamed Sanu back into the fold (I’m not convinced they will), this unit could be incredibly deep and dangerous.
I had several positions pop into my mind. The depth at linebacker is concerning and the cornerback group has a lot of young guys we need to improve quickly. For me, though, the running back group is still a huge number of question marks. Todd Gurley used to be amazing, but is he still? Will that knee hold up for an average of 15 to 20 carries? Behind him, Brian Hill flashed at times but is he truly ready to be RB2? Ito Smith also looked good in short spurts and Qadree Ollison is a complete unknown. It seems we’re relying on Gurley to be “the guy” in a way that may not be warranted (I’m crossing my fingers it is).
- David Walker