The first week of Falcons training camp has come and gone, and we’re now going head-first into the preseason. Atlanta’s first matchup comes on Friday against the Titans, where we’ll get to see the new-look offense and defense against head coach Arthur Smith’s old team. Meanwhile, we’ve gotten a lot of in-depth information on the state of the roster from 10 days of training camp reports.
That means it’s time for my next 53-man roster projection—and yes, this one will include a projection for the now 16-man practice squad, too. This list will be based on my observations from the start of training camp, and of course, will be subject to change over the length of the preseason. I will be putting out a new projection after every preseason game.
Here are all the versions of the 53-man projection, so you can follow along:
Post-draft | Training Camp
Let’s get started. Italics denote changes from the previous roster.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
While the offense hasn’t been spectacular to open camp, that’s not unexpected with the install of a completely different offensive system taking place. Towards the end of the first week of training camp, Matt Ryan looked sharper and more decisive—and that should continue through the course of the preseason. Meanwhile, Arthur Smith said that A.J. McCarron was “expected” to win the QB2 job. That makes him the heavy favorite over UDFA Feleipe Franks, but Smith clarified that there would be a serious competition in the preseason.
RB - 4
No change in this group since our post-draft roster projection, although the Falcons did just sign the intriguing D’Onta Foreman. Mike Davis has clearly been the top runner and looked like it, while third-year player Qadree Ollison has been the RB2. He looks more decisive and quicker as a runner this season. Cordarrelle Patterson will be rotated in as both a RB and WR, but his value is likely to come primarily on special teams. UDFA Javian Hawkins has been very impressive in training camp, and seems to have a strong hold on the “change-of-pace” role.
FB - 1
Keith Smith is one of the best special teams players on the team and a solid lead blocker. He’s only shown off some quality receiving ability during training camp. Smith’s long-term future in Atlanta is unclear—the team may not want to dedicate so much of their limited cap space to a fullback going forward—but he’s safe for 2021.
TE - 4
The top-3 at tight end can be written in pen at this point. Kyle Pitts has been dominant in camp and is everything you’d expect from a player of his pedigree. Hayden Hurst looks rejuvenated and legitimately excited to form a dynamic duo with Pitts this season. Veteran Lee Smith is a tremendous blocker who brings some veteran savvy to the position group. Jaeden Graham’s injury opens the door for one of the UDFAs to make the roster, and the most impressive one thus far has been TE/FB John Raine. Raine has been one of the stars of the second-team offense, demonstrating solid blocking and receiving ability. His versatility at FB also adds to his value.
WR - 5
Obviously, there’s been a massive shakeup in the wide receiver corps after the trade of Julio Jones. Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are locked in to the top two spots, but there’s been a spirited competition behind them. Olamide Zaccheaus seems to be the clear WR3, as he’s been the most consistently impressive and gotten the most first-team looks. Right now it’s a very tight competition for the final two (or possibly three, if that player wins the punt return job) WR spots. I’ll give the slight edge to veteran Tajae Sharpe for his strong play, size advantage, and experience with Arthur Smith for one spot, and to rookie Frank Darby due to his draft pedigree. Christian Blake, Austin Trammell, and Chris Rowland are also strong contenders at this point.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Josh Andrews
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
G/T Jalen Mayfield
C/G Drew Dalman
G/T Jason Spriggs
G/T Willie Beavers
The Falcons finally got starting right tackle Kaleb McGary back off the PUP list, which could shake up the depth chart a bit. Left tackle Jake Matthews and right guard Chris Lindstrom are secure in their starting spots. Veteran Josh Andrews is still in the lead at left guard, though we’ll see if rookie Jalen Mayfield gets an opportunity there now that McGary is back at RT. Second-year center Matt Hennessy has taken the vast majority of first team reps and seems to be nearly locked in at the pivot.
With Matt Gono slated to miss at least part of the regular season, the Falcons took a big hit to their tackle depth. Jalen Mayfield could still be the primary swing tackle, but he’s also likely to get some work at guard over the course of the preseason. OTs Jason Spriggs and Willie Beavers “earned” some starting reps, according to Arthur Smith, and seem to be the favorites for roster spots. Rookie Drew Dalman has been the primary backup center and has also gotten some work at guard.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 4
Dante Fowler Jr.
The EDGE group is still in dire straits after Barkevious Mingo left the team, but at least Dante Fowler Jr. was able to return off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week. In his absence, former UDFA Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and veteran Steven Means received the vast majority of the outside work. Rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji has impressed the coaching staff, earning more and more reps with the starters throughout camp. He could be someone to watch as a surprise contributor in 2021. While I’m only listing four “pure” edge rushers here, that’s because a number of other players are going to factor in: John Cominsky, Brandon Copeland, and Mykal Walker.
IDL - 6
One of the more impressive positions on the defense, the Falcons have a number of very interesting players on the interior defensive line. Obviously, Grady Jarrett is a star and the anchor of the line, but Tyeler Davison has been a solid-at-worst nose tackle throughout his career. John Cominsky has been a fixture with the starters throughout training camp, playing both inside and outside.
Marlon Davidson has also gotten a large number of starting reps in both 3-4 and 4-3 packages. Veteran Jonathan Bullard is another versatile piece who has continued to rotate in with the starters. Rookie Ta’Quon Graham has mostly played with the second-team defense, but has earned some starting reps—his roster spot should be secure.
LB - 5
The linebacker group is another strong point for the defense, and it may look a little different in 2021. Arthur Smith mentioned that Deion Jones—who was the MIKE in Dan Quinn’s defense—would primarily be playing WILL for Dean Pees, while Foyesade Oluokun would be taking over MIKE. Those moves make a lot of sense, as Oluokun has better size for the middle and Jones is better playing in space and moving sideline-to-sideline.
Mykal Walker is a bit of a wild card, as he could play a versatile role including some time at EDGE. The same goes for veteran Brandon Copeland, who spent time both inside and on the edge in base packages. It’s been a back-and-forth competition between UDFAs Erroll Thompson and Dorian Etheridge, but Etheridge appears to have the slight edge at this time. Etheridge is a better athlete and might offer more upside in coverage and on special teams.
CB - 6
We got our first look at the Falcons updated cornerback trio and...it’s actually pretty encouraging! A.J. Terrell looks primed for a second-year breakout, and he was already one of the best rookie CBs in 2020. Fabian Moreau’s signing flew a bit under the radar, but he’s been surprisingly strong thus far on the outside opposite Terrell. Isaiah Oliver has had his ups-and-downs, but has generally been a solid slot player on a down-to-down basis. His physicality and tackling are big boons there, and without full contact it’s hard to appreciate those aspects of his game.
Rookie Darren Hall has definitely been the most consistently impressive of the other CBs on the depth chart. He’s had several PBUs against Kyle Pitts and looks aggressive and confident. Chris Williamson has come out of nowhere to contend for a roster spot, as he’s also been good throughout the first week of camp. I’m still penciling in Avery Williams to win the punt return job due to his draft status, but the preseason will be our first major glimpse into that competition.
S - 4
Another position group with no change since my post-draft projection, safety appears to be in a comfortable place heading into the preseason. Duron Harmon and Erik Harris have both looked solid-to-good in individual drills and team sessions, with both also playing versatile roles and rotating between box and deep coverage responsibilities. Rookie Richie Grant has played mostly with the second team to open camp, but he’s been earning more reps with the starters and has shown flashes of his college production. Meanwhile, second-year player Jaylinn Hawkins has been a standout with the second-team defense—his versatility makes him a logical fourth safety on the roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Cameron Nizialek
LS Josh Harris
While two of three spots—kicker Younghoe Koo and long snapper Josh Harris—are totally settled heading into the preseason, there’s been a shakeup at punter due to a rash of injuries at the position. 2020 seventh-round pick Sterling Hofrichter was placed on IR after suffering an injury early in training camp, leaving things up to a competition between Dom Maggio and the recently-signed Cameron Nizialek. We’ve seen very little of either option, so I’m going with my gut and choosing Nizialek to win this battle. The Falcons could be interested in scanning the waiver wire after camp for a veteran punter if a true starter doesn’t emerge from this group.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 16
QB Feleipe Franks - Franks has had a slow start to camp, but he’s shown enough growth and potential that he’s got the practice squad QB job locked up unless the team brings in an outside player.
RB D’Onta Foreman - Atlanta’s most recent signing either signals trouble for Qadree Ollison or Caleb Huntley. My guess is Huntley, which means Foreman becomes the favorite for this spot.
TE Parker Hesse - It’s been a fierce battle between John Raine and Parker Hesse for TE4, but the loser probably winds up with this practice squad spot. Hesse has been impressive in his own right, but Raine’s FB versatility gives him the edge.
WR Christian Blake - It’s legitimately hard to leave some of these WRs off the roster. Christian Blake has been consistently impressive in camp and offers size and experience with Ryan.
WR Chris Rowland - With Avery Williams winning the return job, Chris Rowland ends up on the practice squad. I like his return ability, and his skills at WR are good enough to keep him around.
WR Austin Trammell - Arguably the most impressive depth receiver to open camp, Austin Trammell has been out with an injury for the last week. Perhaps he can come back and continue on his pace to fight for a roster spot, but I think he’s got this practice squad spot locked up either way. He could be the future in the slot if Russell Gage signs elsewhere in 2022.
OT Kion Smith - A toolsy offensive tackle that needs a lot of seasoning but has enormous potential...sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The Falcons love developing these sorts of players, and hopefully Kion Smith is the next in the line of UDFAs like Ryan Schraeder and Matt Gono.
OL Joe Sculthorpe - Joe Sculthorpe has been getting reps as the third center, which I believe signals an interest in him from the team. Preseason will provide more clarity, but until then, I’m penciling him in here.
OL Sam Jones - A veteran with experience at center, guard, and tackle, Sam Jones makes a ton of sense as a practice squad OL that can be elevated to fill holes anywhere in a pinch.
EDGE Shareef Miller - The “best of the rest” at EDGE, Shareef Miller has potential as a former fourth-round pick of the Eagles. It’s hard to see him getting past anyone else on the depth chart, but he’s worth stashing on the squad to evaluate for the future.
DT Olive Sagapolu - The Falcons are likely to need a cheaper, more traditional NT in 2022, and I think Olive Sagapolu is the most intriguing option of the ones on the roster. He’s got some juice and could develop into a solid starter in time. If he looks good enough, the team might not need to draft a NT next year.
DT Chris Slayton - It’s tough to predict who the team likes best of the depth defensive tackles, but Chris Slayton has continued to get work with the second-team defense. His versatility to play nose in a pinch also adds to his value.
LB Erroll Thompson - I like both of the Falcons’ UDFA additions at LB, but right now Dorian Etheridge is in the lead for the final roster spot. Thompson has also looked solid and might stand out more in a live-tackling situation due to his skills as an old-school thumper.
DB Kendall Sheffield - Sheffield, as is tradition, has had a very up-and-down camp. He shows flashes of quality play, then gets beat for a TD by someone he should be faster than. I’m not sure he’s making the roster with the more consistent play of Darren Hall and Chris Williamson ahead of him.
CB Delrick Abrams Jr. - A project who could potentially be deployed as a matchup corner against big-bodied WRs or even TEs, Abrams lacks speed but has tremendous size. If his technique can improve, he could carve out a role in the future.
S T.J. Green - It’s tough leaving T.J. Green off the roster considering his strong camp, but he’s been slightly outplayed by Jaylinn Hawkins thus far. Don’t be surprised if the team elects to keep him and shave off a player elsewhere, though.
What are your thoughts on this possible 53-man roster for the Falcons? Share them in the comments below!