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Falcons fill 15 of 16 2020 practice squad slots on Sunday

Atlanta’s got one open spot, but the shuffling may not be over yet.

NFL: Preseason-Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have not yet finalized their practice squad, but then they never really do. Throughout the season, as the team’s needs evolve and they call up players to the active roster, they’ll churn this thing over and over again.

For right now, though, they’ve filled 15 out of 16 spots for the early part of the season, and it’s worth taking a closer look at who they added while we wait to see who gets the final one.

I’m less interested in spending time going through each individual player on the squad for the moment—I did that briefly here, if you’re interested—than figuring out why they went with the players and positions they did. As a reminder, here’s who they wound up with for their 15.

QB Kyle Lauletta

QB Kurt Benkert

WR/KR/PR Chris Rowland

WR Juwan Green

TE Jared Pinkney

OL Sean Harlow

OL John Wetzel

OG/OC Willie Wright

DE Austin Edwards

LB Edmond Robinson

CB Delrick Abrams Jr.

CB Tyler Hall

CB Josh Hawkins

S Jamal Carter

P Cameron Nizialek

The Falcons built this thing pretty deliberately with an eye on building up depth at positions where their perceived weaknesses (or at least vulnerabilities, should a starter falter, get sick, or get injured) more or less matches what we expected, even if the players weren’t who I would’ve anticipated.

The first observation is that they’re carrying two practice squad quarterbacks, something I thought they’d do with Kurt Benkert and Danny Etling way back in July. Benkert gives the team familiarity and legitimate arm talent, as he’s entering his third season in Atlanta, while Lauletta has talent he hasn’t been able to unlock at other stops. That gives the Falcons their legitimate developmental guy (Lauletta) and a third quarterback who also happens to be young and still have upside (Benkert), and there’s a non-zero possibility they’ll need to call on both this season.

Elsewhere, the Falcons tried to balance adding young talent with the need for emergency depth. Tyler Hall and Delrick Abrams are players who are new to the league and have real upside—Hall is someone I like a lot—and Pinkney and Edwards figure to be long-term fixtures on the practice squad before hopefully landing on the active roster someday in much the same way players like Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Jaeden Graham did. The Falcons are hoping not to have to call on any of them this year, and to that end they’ve either built up depth on the active roster (they’re carrying a ton of defensive linemen, for example) or have another option on hand (at cornerback, that’s the more proven Josh Hawkins). It’s good to see that Atlanta hasn’t abandoned an approach that has brought them real success in the past, and that’s not even mentioning Chris Rowland, who could be the team’s returner of the future.

With veteran spots open, though, the Falcons weren’t just intent on stockpiling young talent. Nizialek is the emergency punter, obviously, but Carter, Robinson, Harlow and Wetzel are all more seasoned players who will effectively serve as emergency callups if their respective units are ravaged by injuries or COVID-19. With the ability to have two players elevated on gameday from the practice squad, there’s a good chance Wetzel and Carter in particular will find their way onto the roster in the early going to back up an offensive line and safety group with some injury risks on it. That’s also an effective use of practice squad spots this season, given that the need for depth could become acute if things go sideways on the COVID front, as much as we hope that doesn’t happen.

We’ll see what becomes of that final slot, but the Falcons did a nice job building a balanced roster with real depth at their shakier positions, and they extended that approach to the practice squad. We all hope players like Benkert, Rowland, Pinkney, Edwards, and Hall can become affordable contributors to a cap-strapped 2021 Falcons squad, but in the meantime, look for some of the more veteran players on the practice squad to make their marks in 2020.