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5 surprises from the Falcons 53 man roster and what they might mean

Things to take away from the team’s roster construction after a long, long summer.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Everett Glaze broke down the new 53 man roster. A little later, we’ll talk about the strongest and weakest position groups on the roster. For the moment, I’d like to talk about the small handful of surprises the Falcons pulled on us.

This is not a supremely shocking roster, which was to be expected. It’s filled with established players and rookies who were guaranteed spots, and none of those guys were particularly difficult to figure out. The little surprises came in the hours after the roster was announced as we processed the reserves and specialists who made it. Here are five of the things that surprised me over the weekend and what they might mean.

The addition of OL Timon Parris

We weren’t sure how the Falcons felt about their offensive line depth. As cuts drew closer, it looked like John Wetzel would be the last man on the line, and I had gone back and forth on whether to include him on the practice squad with Sean Harlow or on the active roster. The Falcons had a habit of liking Wetzel enough to keep bringing him back but not enough to not cut him over and over again, so it was fair to wonder where he’d end up.

We found out quickly that it was more of the same for the poor guy, who made the initial 53 only to be cut immediately and signed to the practice squad in favor of former Washington tackle Timon Parris. The Falcons took the time to claim Parris off waivers, so it’s fair to assume they like the 24-year-old a great deal despite just four games of NFL experience in two years.

The addition of Parris complicates the picture along the offensive line, especially given that the Falcons have pretty exclusively had Matt Gono practicing on the left side of the line at tackle and guard. There’s a strong chance Gono is the second-string left tackle and third-string left guard, while Parris will back up Kaleb McGary at right tackle. His addition is a surprise, but hopefully Parris can be a quality reserve sooner than later.

Brandon Powell over Chris Rowland

The Chris Rowland hype train was hard to stop, particularly for me. The rookie had a sterling track record as a returner in college and was an extremely productive receiver, while Brandon Powell had some intriguing moments as a receiver but a slim track record as a returner in both college and the pros. Rowland felt a little inevitable, even in a tough year for rookies.

Of course, there’s at least one UDFA every year who captures my heart and proves not to be inevitable at all, and Rowland was this year’s. He’s thankfully on the practice squad, but Powell won out. The question was why?

The short answer is that we don’t know, but it’s safe to assume he fared better as a punt returner in training camp, and his veteran status and upside as a receiver—Powell once put up over 100 yards on 6 receptions against the Packers—pushed him over the top this year. We’ve since learned that Olamide Zaccheaus is listed as the team’s kick returner, so it’s fair to assume there was more than just the practice reps at punt returner that went into this. Given Powell’s speed I’d like to see what he can do at receiver sometimes

Christian Blake triumphs

There were analysts warning that we should not count Christian Blake out, including Aaron Freeman at FalcFans, but I was dubious after Blake followed up his fine performance against the Saints last year with a whole lot of nothing. Given his limited special teams value to this point, I thought Blake would probably lose out to Laquon Treadwell, but Blake is on the roster and is very likely the 4th or 5th receiver.

Remember that we were told last year that the Falcons loved Blake, potentially as a Mohamed Sanu replacement given his hands and physicality, and they have likely seen enough between practice and his inspired performance against Marshon Lattimore last year to feel that promise is real. I’m reading the tea leaves here, but if Zaccheaus and Powell are ticketed for major special teams roles and Blake isn’t, he could be in line for a decent number of targets in the passing game. If he’s not, I’m not sure he survives on the roster all year.

The heavy emphasis on the defensive line

I wondered if the Falcons would keep Deadrin Senat, Charles Harris, or Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, but it’s fair to say I did not expect that they’d keep more than two of those three players. There’s virtually no way the team will keep 11 players on the defensive line for long, which is why it was surprising.

It makes sense when you consider that Dante Fowler Jr. and Marlon Davidson are both banged up, however. Fowler looks like he’s back at full strength but Davidson may not be for 2-4 weeks, and someone will have to take on the snaps he was heir to. That’ll likely be Senat and Tuioti-Mariner in the short-term, though long-term it’ll be interesting to see whether the Falcons want another true defensive tackle in Senat or prefer Tuitoi-Mariner’s ability to play inside and outside.

Harris is harder to figure out. The Falcons traded for him but I’ve heard essentially nothing about how he’s fared to this point, making it difficult to suss out how much run he’s going to get and how safe he’ll be if the team’s shaking up other positions on the roster. I’d guess he’s safe for the moment, however, and that he’ll get something like 20 snaps against Seattle.

The Falcons lining up a ton of guys along the defensive line will probably only last a short time either way, thanks to the next surprise on the list.

Only 5 cornerbacks

The Falcons are usually good for six cornerbacks on the initial roster, and last year they carried that many out of camp. With a rookie starter in the mix, you’d figure they’d do so again.

The reason this wasn’t a total surprise is because of a pair of factors. First, the depth they have is quite good, with Kendall Sheffield looking like a player who could start and fare well as soon as this year, and Blidi Wreh-Wilson being one of the most underrated depth pieces this team has. The second is that Jordan Miller, a player the Falcons liked a lot coming out of college in 2019, is suspended for the first two games of the season, and presumably will have a spot waiting for him when he gets back.

It’s fair to assume someone—perhaps someone on the defensive line—is going to have to go when Miller returns. The Falcons will weather the short-term by having three corners on the practice squad and knowing that they have two very good backups already on the roster.

What else surprised you about this roster?