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Falcons will protect QB Kurt Benkert, WR Chris Rowland from practice squad poaching for Week 1

Each week, teams can protect four players, and this week the Falcons mix promise with practicality.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons-Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

One of the most unnoticed provisions of the expanded 2020 practice squads is that teams can protect up to four players from being poached per week. Given that there are 16 players, it’s a tough thing to determine which four you’re going to protect in a given week, but the Falcons have made their decision already for Week 1.

Interestingly, the team has decided to mix promise with practical needs with their four selections. They’re showing how much they value Kurt Benkert and Chris Rowland by adding both to their list, but they’re also protecting two more veteran options in Sean Harlow and John Wetzel.

Benkert and former Giants draft selection Kyle Lauletta are the team’s two practice squad quarterbacks, and at least for the moment it appears the Falcons are more concerned with losing the strong-armed, athletic Benkert. He’s looked like the heir apparent to Matt Schaub the last couple of seasons, but of course Schaub will apparently play forever, so Benkert continues to wait in the wings.

Rowland is a super-talented returner and receiver who set all sorts of records in college and will be waiting in the wings to see if Olamide Zaccheaus or Brandon Powell falter with the kick returner and punt returner gigs, respectively. Atlanta’s likely to try to protect him all season, given his upside, but he may be called upon during the year if injuries strike or Powell in particular doesn’t fare well.

Harlow is a former Falcons fourth round selection who keeps hanging around without getting into games, but at this point he’s been in the offense a long time and offers the ability to play guard and center, so the Falcons are likely valuing his versatility and experience with this designation. If there are any injuries or issues on the interior of the offensive line, he’ll be the first man up. New addition Willie Wright may have more upside, but he’s also less likely to be poached, at least in Atlanta’s mind.

Wetzel rounds out the list as a seasoned, versatile offensive lineman in his own right, one who the team could plug and play at several positions if the need arose. The fact that the team has pushing to protect him and Harlow tells you they’re not 100% confident in their offensive line depth at the moment.

The remaining 12 players can be poached, and Atlanta’s likely gambling that teams won’t try to pick someone like Deone Bucannon or Lauletta in the first week of the season. We’ll see if those bets pay off, but at least we know that Benkert and Rowland are going nowhere at the moment.