What do Bear Woods, Geraldo “Amsterdam” Boldewijn, Austin Larkin, Bernard Reedy, and J.D. McKissic have in common? All of them were briefly Falcons, and all of them were the subject of some considerable training camp and preseason buzz at one point, hype they never got the opportunity to live up to in Atlanta.
With training camp around the corner, this is the smart time to throw some cold water on your hopes and dreams for the plucky undrafted free agent or late round long shot who garners some coaching staff praise, makes a couple of big preseason plays and ultimately steals your heart, because chances are good that player is either ticketed for the practice squad or headed elsewhere. The reality is that no matter how good our favorite guys look in the summer heat, it’s probably not going to happen for them, because it so rarely does. Guys like Olamide Zaccheaus or the great Ryan Schraeder are the exception and not the rule over the past decade here.
This is quickly going to devolve into something akin to Defector writer David Roth’s “Let’s Remember Some Guys” series, but hey, let’s look back at some noteworthy training camp standouts from the past decade or so who didn’t pan out in the NFL or just didn’t stick in Atlanta.
- Brandyn Harvey was maybe the first noteworthy example of this genre in The Falcoholic era and a great example of me falling for the hype I now caution against. A 6’4”, 205 pound receiver out of Villanova who had a knack for pulling in long touchdown grabs in college, Harvey tantalized fans early on with his combination of size and speed. A miserable final game of the 2010 preseason cost him a shot at the roster, but he spent a season on the practice squad and did some mild dazzling in the 2011 preseason before being cut loose by Atlanta.
- Bear Woods endeared himself to fans by virtue of having the name Bear Woods, but he also looked pretty good in 2010 preseason and training camp. He hung around until 2011 like Harvey but wound up being cut just before the season. Unlike Harvey, his career continued elsewhere, as Woods is now entering his 11th season in the Canadian Football League.
- Kevin Cone followed Harvey, and to my delight, is now back and a member of the team’s staff. A big, athletic receiver out of Georgia Tech, Cone did enough in the summer of 2011 to stir up excitement and did stick on the practice squad. He would wind up actually becoming a useful special teamer for Atlanta, putting up 10 tackles combined over 2012 and 2013, but he never did make a catch in an NFL game.
- Bernard Reedy and Geraldo Boldewijn both ended up joining the team as undrafted free agents in 2014, which turned out to be an auspicious time. Boldewijn didn’t even play football until he was 15, but came to the United States from the Netherlands and wound up being a success at Boise State. His featured time on Hard Knocks, his fun nickname from teammates (Amsterdam) and his (say it with me again) size and athleticism made him an instant fan favorite, and to this day I don’t think I’ve ever gotten more questions about an undrafted free agent than I did about Boldewijn when he didn’t make the team, and there was a lot of outrage that he didn’t.
An injury late in the summer didn’t help his case, but it did open the door for Bernard Reedy, a speedy receiver who wound up sticking on the practice squad in 2014. He got some additional hype in the 2015 preseason but was released as part of the team’s final cuts that year, which sparked more outrage. Reedy would go on to land on practice squads and chip in on special teams at several NFL stops.
- J.D. McKissic is the big mistake on this list. The very first time he touched the ball in the 2016 preseason, it was on a kickoff return he took 101 yards to the house against Washington, which will rev up the hype machine like nothing else. He spent the 2016 season on the practice squad after being released as part of final cuts, but did get a late season promotion only to be released for good in mid-December.
McKissic was picked up by the Seahawks shortly thereafter, and since then he’s rushed 173 times for 767 yards and 2 touchdowns, chipping in 150 receptions for 1,104 yards and 5 touchdowns through the air. He’s been a speedy, useful and versatile reserve everywhere he’s gone, and the Falcons would’ve been better off keeping him around.
- Austin Larkin is the rare UDFA pass rusher to make some noise for the Falcons. He didn’t come up with the Falcons originally—the Cowboys signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2018—but he looked terrific in preseason in 2019 for a line very obviously starved for pass rushing promise. Atlanta sagely decided to cut him, sign him to the practice squad right after cuts, promote him to the roster, cut him and sign him to the practice squad, and then promote him again in 2019. They brought him back in 2020 but then cut him on August 4, well before final cuts, and he’s now with the Panthers.
In the short time this article has been up, people have asked why I didn’t include Tyler Starr, Jacques Smith, Jon Celestin and Jermaine Grace, so apparently this resonated.
If this list brought back fond memories and maybe some angry ones, well, that’s how I felt writing it. This is an especially useful reminder because there are so many unknowns with a new coaching staff and so many seemingly open roster spots for the Falcons in 2021, so it will be that much easier to believe a player can buck history and turn a great preseason and training camp into a roster spot. Maybe Arthur Smith and company will open the floodgates to undrafted free agents in a way we haven’t seen before, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
As this list illustrates, you would be wise not to fall in love with your training camp heroes. For every Olamide Zaccheaus, there’s a dozen players who tantalized us with brilliant moments and then were never heard from again.