The Falcons released their initial 2020 depth chart yesterday, and it was full of interesting items of note, as David Walker wrote yesterday. While you have to take these depth charts with a grain of salt, given how much the Falcons like to rotate on the defensive line and how often they disregard them entirely when the games start, there are still observations worth paying extra attention to.
Let’s trot through a few of those now as we get ready for Seahawks-Falcons, which is only! a! few! days! away!
James Carpenter is starting, at least for now
This is not where I wanted to end up. I was perfectly content with the Carpenter signing a year ago, though less pleased than I would have been had the team not signed Brown and Carpenter, and reasoned he’d be a fine backup or passable one-year starter. Unfortunately for the Falcons and Carpenter, he had a rough season and wound up injured, and I was hoping he’d settle in as quality veteran guard depth for 2020, even if the price tag didn’t suggest that.
At least for the moment, Carpenter seems set to start again. Matt Hennessy has been working his way back from injury, and unless he has a stellar week of practice, the team may not be interested in rushing him back to the field. That’s especially true given that Seattle’s punchless pass rush is one of the weakest Atlanta will face all season, meaning that while it would be a nice way to ease Hennessy in, they don’t have to risk him if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
This is one to watch. If Carpenter does start and plays well, he might be able to hold Hennessy off for a little while, but that’s not a given.
Brian Hill is Todd Gurley’s backup
Hill has had a habit of excelling over the summer the last couple of years and then struggling to translate it into opportunities, big performances, or both. This year, though, the Falcons have him lined up as Todd Gurley’s direct backup, which could mean a fairly significant amount of work for the young, bruising back.
This doesn’t mean Ito Smith isn’t going to contribute, naturally, given that I still think he’s the best pass catching back on the roster not named Gurley. It does mean that with Gurley potentially needing to be spelled at times and with Hill continuing to
The Falcons are teasing three safety sets
Atlanta has suggested they will try to use three safeties more often, but rolling out a depth chart where three safeties are listed as starters is perhaps the strongest sign yet that it’ll be more than lip service. This team has Ricardo Allen, Keanu Neal, and Damontae Kazee, and when all three are healthy that’s three starting-caliber players who ideally would not be riding the bench for long.
What will that look like? I’m not entirely sure, but Allen excels playing deep as the team’s de facto safety net, while Neal and Kazee are physical players who are very useful in run support and (especially in the case of Kazee) can make plays on the ball, meaning the Falcons will want at least one of them closer to the line of scrimmage. Eric Robinson had some interesting and in-depth thoughts about the potential new alignment in his piece this morning, which I highly recommend.
I really can’t wait to see whether the team follows through and does deploy all three on the field together at the same time against the Seahawks, and a look at how effective that might be for a team I thought was going to give us a healthy dose of Darqueze Dennard. Color me mildly skeptical until they do it, still.
Younghoe Koo is handling kickoffs
This one was a legitimate surprise to me. We heard a lot about the strength of Sterling Hofrichter’s leg and his track record at Syracuse was excellent, as he regularly boomed kickoffs and made three special teams tackles while doing so. I figured he’d at least compete for the same role in Atlanta.
Instead, it’ll remain Koo, who did fine work in his own right and was downright lethal when asked to attempt onside kicks. The team’s evident confidence in Koo, who didn’t face a challenge for the starting kicker job, means he’ll likely hold that role all season, and hopefully will build on a strong 2019 campaign.