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Who are Atlanta’s roster locks heading into training camp?

The Falcons will have to determine more than 20 roster spots in training camp and preseason, if our very unofficial list is correct.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Training camp is kicking off, which means it’s an excellent time to take stock of where this roster stands. As of the time I’m writing this, Atlanta has 89 players on the roster and will be working to refine the group down to 53 men and a practice squad before the start of the 2021 season.

That begs the question: How many players are absolutely guaranteed to make the team in 2021? With a brand new

How are we defining roster locks? These are players who by virtue of being draft additions this year in areas of obvious need, slam dunk starters or just high-end depth players this team has already indicated they’re going to utilize, can be safely projected to make this team with something like 95% certainty so long as they’re healthy. The biggest leaps here are for those Day 3 draft picks who I am extremely confident the coaching staff will favor for roster spots, but can’t really know that.

Let’s break it down.

Offense: 14

  • QB Matt Ryan
  • RB Mike Davis
  • RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson
  • WR Calvin Ridley
  • WR Russell Gage
  • WR Frank Darby
  • TE Kyle Pitts
  • TE Hayden Hurst
  • OT Jake Matthews
  • OT Kaleb McGary
  • OG Chris Lindstrom
  • OG Jalen Mayfield
  • OC Matt Hennessy
  • OC/OG Drew Dalman

Because we’re sticking with true locks, the offensive line group might not be what you expect. Josh Andrews has a legitimate shot at leaving the summer with the starting left guard job, but he’s not a lock to make the roster if Mayfield takes the starting job and the team’s collection of interesting young undrafted free agents shine. Depth is the big question mark here, and I can’t consider Matt Gono a lock because we don’t even know his status right now after a reported injury earlier this summer.

The skill positions are also short on players we absolutely know are going to make this roster. A.J. McCarron and Feleipe Franks will be duking it out for backup quarterback duties, Qadree Ollison feels like a strong bet but not a lock and the wide receiver position is thoroughly unsettled beyond the top two guys and Darby even if I really like Olamide Zaccheaus to make it. Lee Smith should also make it but he was reportedly considering retirement at one point this offseason and Atlanta has a couple of young blocking tight ends in camp who could theoretically surprise.

In short, Atlanta’s offense has a clear set of starters (minus, obviously, left guard) who are going to make the roster. As you’d expect for a team in transition, depth is very unsettled.

Defense: 16

  • DL Grady Jarrett
  • DL Tyeler Davison
  • DL Marlon Davidson
  • DL TaQuon Graham
  • DL/LB Dante Fowler
  • DL/LB Age Ogundeji
  • LB Deion Jones
  • LB Foye Oluokun
  • LB Mykal Walker
  • CB A.J. Terrell
  • CB Fabian Moreau
  • CB Darren Hall
  • CB Avery Williams
  • S Richie Grant
  • S Duron Harmon
  • S Erik Harris

For a defense with a lot of question marks, this probably seems like a lot of guys. The reality is that I fully expect every draft pick the Falcons made to stick on the roster—they need to develop young defenders across the board—

Along the defensive line, Jarrett is the only slam dunk great player Atlanta has. Their contract alterations have guaranteed Davison and Fowler will be here in 2021, and obviously I have high hopes for Davidson and expect the team will have them, as well. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, John Cominsky, Jonathan Bullard, Deadrin Senat, Olive Sagapolu and a handful of others will be competing for a small handful of spots that are available, with Tuitoi-Mariner, Cominsky and Sagapolu being three players I’d keep a particularly close eye on.

Things are more settled elsewhere. Brandon Copeland will probably stick at linebacker and the team could still add a free agent who will slot in there, but Jones, Oluokun and Walker are all very good players who are on this roster. At corner, Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield are on shakier ground as draft picks for the previous regime in a year where Atlanta added three new players via free agency and the draft, but I’d be stunned if Moreau, Hall and Williams didn’t stick. The only real question at safety is if the Falcons will keep Hawkins, but I do expect them to.

This defense needs an infusion of talent, but it’s fair to say it’s not going to happen this year. They’ll be heavily dependent on coaching and leaps from guys like Fowler, Terrell and Davidson to carry them forward.

Special Teams: 1

  • K Younghoe Koo
  • LS Josh Harris

There’s a competition at punter, so we can’t consider Hofrichter a lock even if I think he’ll win the job. Patterson and Avery Williams are two players I expect to also make the team largely (though not entirely) for their special teams value. Koo, meanwhile, is coming off a tremendous season and will face zero competition for the kicking job.

I am so sorry to Falcoholic Live guest Josh Harris for initially forgetting him here.

In total, I’ve got 31 roster locks for the 53 man roster and 22 open spots, though I’m sure you’ll find a few names on this list (or not on this list) to quibble with. On defense there are several major roles up for grabs, but across the roster this team has to determine who fits for depth both now and potentially well into the future. It will be worth monitoring training camp and preseason to see how Atlanta settles the back end of the roster, and whether they can build a talented enough roster out of the options they have to make any kind of noise in 2021.