The 2021 NFL Draft has finally come and gone, with the Falcons adding nine rookies to the roster along with 20 UDFA signings. That brings Atlanta’s roster to 86 total players out of a possible 90, meaning that some additional veterans or UDFAs will be coming at some point in the near future. Until the team creates more cap space—either through a Grady Jarrett extension, restructure, or other methods—there won’t be any more moves, however.
With a ton of new additions and the roster almost set, it’s time for my first 53-man roster projection of the year. I’ll be breaking down each position group and slotting in the players I believe will make the final 53. In future versions—after we have at least a little on-field work to go off of—I’ll start projecting the practice squad, as well.
Let’s get started. Italics denote changes from the previous roster.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
The Falcons committed to Matt Ryan for at least the next 2-3 years by passing on a potential successor at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft. Ryan has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years and will have arguably the NFL’s best weapons around him this season. With Matt Schaub retiring, Atlanta brings in a new backup in the experienced A.J. McCarron. McCarron is a solid reserve option who can spot start for a game or two without the team collapsing.
RB - 4
The most drastically reshaped position group on offense, running back has received a significant makeover with starter Todd Gurley and primary reserve Ito Smith departing this offseason. In their place are former Panthers RB Mike Davis and former Bears RB/WR/KR Cordarrelle Patterson. The only holdover is Qadree Ollison, who still has a solid chance at the roster. UDFA Javian Hawkins is very intriguing and fills a niche as a dynamic option—I like his chances of making the 53.
FB - 1
Keith Smith is one of the best special teams players on the team and a solid lead blocker. With Atlanta’s substantial investments in improving the special teams overall, Smith’s roster spot seems to be safe. Arthur Smith used 21 personnel (RB + FB) on 10% of plays in 2020, good for 9th in the NFL—so the FB will still have a role with the Falcons.
TE - 4
With the addition of 4th overall pick Kyle Pitts, the Falcons tight end room went from “decent” to “in contention for the best in the NFL”. Obviously, we still need to see how Pitts’ skillset translates to the NFL—but if any rookie TE can have a dominant season, it would be Pitts. Hayden Hurst had his 5th-year option declined, but he’ll form a strong 12 personnel grouping with Pitts as a secondary option. Atlanta traded for Lee Smith, formerly of the Bills, to fill their blocker role with an experienced veteran. With Arthur Smith’s love of 12 and even 13 personnel, a 4th TE is likely to be kept. The favorite right now is still Jaeden Graham, who has flashed when given opportunities.
WR - 5
Not much change at WR, and why would there be? Even with Julio Jones missing almost half the season, Atlanta still had one of the best WR corps in the NFL. Julio hopefully returns to his healthy dominant self this year. Calvin Ridley would easily be the WR1 on most teams, and the Falcons may start asking him to take on more snaps and targets as Julio continues to age. Russell Gage is one of the better WR3s in the NFL and forms a dynamic trio for 11 personnel packages. New draft pick Frank Darby is likely to make the roster alongside former UDFA Olamide Zaccheaus. This group lacks size outside of Julio, but with Pitts and Patterson on the roster, it’s not as big of a deal.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Jalen Mayfield
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
G/T Matt Gono
C/G Drew Dalman
OL Josh Andrews
OL Bryce Hargrove
One way or another, this unit will have two new faces starting in Week 1 of 2021. Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom are 100% locked in to their jobs at LT and RG, respectively, while Kaleb McGary remains the heavy favorite to start at RT once again. Center and left guard are much more open, as we’re likely to see a big competition for each spot. My gut says rookie Jalen Mayfield will get the nod at LG, and second-year player Matt Hennessy narrowly beats out rookie Drew Dalman at center.
Matt Gono will be competing to start at LG and possibly at RT, but he’ll be the primary backup OL and swing tackle if he doesn’t wind up starting. Whoever doesn’t end up starting at center will become the primary interior backup. The remaining OL spots are total toss-ups, but I give the slight edge to veteran Josh Andrews due to his versatility and experience. There’s a real chance for a UDFA OL to make the roster, too, and I’m leaning Bryce Hargrove at the moment due to his experience at left guard and future starting potential.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 5
Dante Fowler Jr.
With new defensive coordinator Dean Pees at the helm, we’re likely to see more 3-4 looks and a lot more rushing from a two-point stance. Dante Fowler accepted a reduced, incentive-heavy pay cut to return to the team in 2021—we’ll hope that he’s more productive as an OLB. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner had a strong season as a reserve in 2020 and will look to take on a larger role this year. Veteran Barkevious Mingo is still tremendously talented but has never managed to become more than a rotational player in the NFL.
Fifth-round pick Adetokunbo Ogundeji is a versatile player who can take snaps in many spots—he still needs development, but has tremendous traits to work with. Finally, 2019 fourth-rounder John Cominsky may get more chances to play on the edge than on the interior due to his incredible athleticism and movement skills.
IDL - 5
Arguably the most competitive position group on the roster, the defensive interior group has a ton of players competing for 5 spots at most. Grady Jarrett and Tyeler Davison are both roster locks due to their talent and contracts, while 2020 second-rounder Marlon Davidson should also be fairly locked-in due to his talent and draft status. Behind those three, there will be an intense competition for the final two spots. Ta’Quon Graham has a leg up due to his draft status and talent, while Bullard’s veteran experience in both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes will help him make the roster.
LB - 5
The Falcons have a strong group of starting linebackers, with Deion Jones and Foyesade Oluokun forming one of the better duos in the NFL. Mykal Walker should take on a larger role in his second year and could get some reps at EDGE as well. Brandon Copeland provides veteran depth and can also rush off the edge if needed. UDFA Erroll Thompson is a big, physical thumper who could be an asset on run downs and short-yardage defense.
CB - 5
CB is a bit of an enigma right now—I wouldn’t be shocked if Atlanta added another experienced veteran here to bolster the depth or even start. A.J. Terrell had a good rookie season and will be expected to handle CB1 once again. Fabian Moreau is an underrated player who never quite cracked the starting lineup consistently in Washington, but graded out well when on the field. Moreau could wind up the CB2 when the dust settles. Isaiah Oliver looked much more comfortable in the slot and should be the favorite to reprise that role in 2021. The two rookies, Darren Hall and Avery Williams, should lock down the depth roles—Hall due to his draft status and talent, Williams due to his special teams acumen.
S - 5
A group that will look drastically different from 2020, second-year player Jaylinn Hawkins is the only holdover from last year’s roster. Expect the Falcons to feature a rotation at safety consisting of rookie Richie Grant, veteran Duron Harmon, and veteran Erik Harris. Hawkins should be the primary backup and could come in on run downs. Former UDFA T.J. Green is an intriguing talent who could stick around as developmental depth.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Sterling Hofrichter
LS Josh Harris
I’m not predicting any changes here from 2020’s final group. Younghoe Koo took the league by storm and will hopefully turn in another excellent season in 2021. Second-year punter Sterling Hofrichter wasn’t amazing in his rookie season, but showed some strong directional punting skills—I doubt the team moves on unless Dom Maggio shows out in camp. The always-reliable Josh Harris will continue as the team’s long snapper.
What are your thoughts on this possible 53-man roster for the Falcons? Share them in the comments below!