The first Falcons preseason game is officially in the books, and it was...not great, to say the least. As of Tuesday, Atlanta had also trimmed their roster down to 84, saying goodbye to the following players:
DT John Atkins
DB Marcus Murphy
EDGE George Obinna
OL William Sweet
OL Bryce Hargrove
WR J’Mon Moore (injured)
With the second preseason game fast approaching, it’s time for my next 53-man roster projection, plus practice squad! In the effort of keeping these from becoming too monotonous—I don’t really think the first preseason game has moved the needle for any players, outside of maybe the practice squad—I’ll be a little more aggressive with my projection. That means I’ll be moving players in and out a little faster than I’d normally consider. Don’t take it too seriously and try to enjoy the discussion!
Here are all the versions of the 53-man projection, so you can follow along:
Let’s get started. Italics denote changes from the previous roster.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
Obviously, there isn’t going to be change at the top here. The offensive line play in the first preseason game was so bad that it was very difficult to evaluate the QBs at all. A.J. McCarron looked shaky, there’s no doubt about it—but so did UDFA Feleipe Franks. While Franks ultimately had a more memorable day, he hasn’t done enough yet to unseat McCarron at QB2. If the rumors that Franks might get to play with the second team are true, however, that could easily change by the end of the preseason.
RB - 4
With the starters not playing at all, we didn’t even see the top three guys on this list—and I don’t believe any of them are in danger of losing their roster spots at this point. It was almost impossible to evaluate the RBs for the same reason as the QBs: the offensive line was abysmal. Still, in limited action, Caleb Huntley was the first man up and also the player who managed to make the most of a bad situation. He’s taken a slight lead over Javian Hawkins after the first preseason game.
FB - 1
Keith Smith didn’t play at all in Week 1 of the preseason, but his roster spot is not in jeopardy. He’s a great special teams player and has been involved as a receiver with the offense in camp.
TE - 4
Again, no movement as the top-3 spots are written in stone at this point. John Raine had his ups-and-downs in a truly awful offensive performance, but he did manage to end the day as Atlanta’s leading receiver. As the depth TE who has stood out the most in camp, Raine is still the favorite for the fourth roster spot.
WR - 5
The starters—including Olamide Zaccheaus—didn’t play a single snap in this one, but that tells us a lot about who is relatively safe on this roster. Meanwhile, the depth receivers played a ton...and ultimately, did very little. Tajae Sharpe was easily the most impressive of the bunch, hauling in two catches from A.J. McCarron which both would’ve gone for first downs if not for penalties elsewhere. Frank Darby is holding on to a very tenuous lead on the fifth and final roster spot at WR, but he’ll need to start making plays soon or he’s in danger of getting cut for someone like Christian Blake or Austin Trammell.
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 Willie Beavers
C/G Sam Jones
I decided not to move anyone here, but the biggest standout from Friday’s preseason game was that the offensive line depth was simply not good enough. The biggest issue was Josh Andrews, who played most of the first half at left guard and looked extremely shaky against Tennessee’s backups. It’s imperative that Andrews is not the opening day starter against Philadelphia, and I’d expect a veteran signing there if rookie Jalen Mayfield—who has started taking second-team reps at left guard—doesn’t take control of the job.
Speaking of Mayfield, he was definitely bad at right tackle—but it’s not his ideal NFL position, in my opinion, and it was his first ever NFL action. Willie Beavers was OK at best and will need to play better if he wants to hold on to swing tackle. In terms of players who actually impressed, Sam Jones wasn’t a liability and UDFA Ryan Neuzil—who I have making the practice squad now—actually turned in a good game overall.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 4
Dante Fowler Jr.
In terms of pleasant surprises, the EDGE group—and pass rush as a whole—actually did a pretty solid job against the Titans. Tuioti-Mariner and Ogundeji were disruptive, with the rookie registering a half sack as well. We didn’t see Dante Fowler or Steven Means during the game, but both appear to have safe roster spots.
IDL - 6
The Falcons rotated a lot of players along the defensive front, and several were impressive. Marlon Davidson was one of the players of the game, and he was utilized just about everywhere on the line. Cominsky had a good start but was forced to leave the game with a head injury. Veteran Jonathan Bullard was another standout, and it seems he’s become a heavy favorite for the roster due to his versatile skillset. Rookie Ta’Quon Graham was fairly quiet, but did manage a few positive plays in his debut.
LB - 5
As with the other position groups, we didn’t see the starters at all in the linebacker group. However, we did see Mykal Walker and Brandon Copeland look solid against the Titans in the early part of the game. The real star, however, was UDFA Dorian Etheridge, who was the most consistently impactful player on defense with 13 total tackles and 3 TFL. Fellow UDFA Erroll Thompson also impressed, but Etheridge maintains the slight lead.
CB - 6
We didn’t see any snaps from the top three corners, but did see quite a bit of the other guys. Chris Williamson struggled in his first game action after an impressive camp, but I think the team likes him enough to give him more chances to prove himself. Meanwhile, Darren Hall had a quiet day—a good thing for a corner. The biggest surprise was Avery Williams, who was arguably the most impressive of the corners in the second half. He also took the lead in the returner battle after looking just a little more decisive and explosive than Chris Rowland.
S - 4
No movement whatsoever from this group. Harmon and Harris didn’t even see the field, while Richie Grant had an up-and-down performance early in the game—he saw a lot of time in the slot, which is not a position he’s played much before. 2020 fourth-round pick Jaylinn Hawkins was one of the most impressive players on defense, however, and has taken a clear lead for the fourth safety spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Cameron Nizialek
LS Josh Harris
Younghoe Koo didn’t get many opportunities to kick in this one, making his first attempt and just missing a long 55-yard try. Distance has never been his strong suit, so a close 55-yard miss isn’t at all alarming for Koo. Meanwhile, Cameron Nizialek turned in an awesome performance in his first game with the team. He averaged an incredible 54.0 yards per punt and even delivered a 60+ yarder at one point. Despite shaky coverage, Nizialek was a clear bright spot and seems to be the heavy favorite to win the punter competition.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 16
QB Feleipe Franks - Franks had the offensive play of the game on his 52-yard scramble and definitely seemed more comfortable behind an awful OL due to his mobility. He also had at least 3 passes dropped by receivers, which hurt his stat line. Franks was the more impressive QB against Tennessee, but he’ll need to keep it up to unseat McCarron.
RB Javian Hawkins - Hawkins never got a chance to leave the backfield, so him moving to the practice squad is more in the interest of shaking up the projection than anything. But the team’s decision to give the first (and more frequent) snaps to Caleb Huntley is worth monitoring.
RB D’Onta Foreman - Foreman barely had any chance to escape the backfield due to the terrible OL play, but when he got moving he showed off his physicality and tackle-breaking ability. I think he’ll stick around on the squad.
TE Parker Hesse - Hesse and Raine have continued to fight over the 4th TE spot, but Raine still has the slight edge. Hesse also had an up-and-down game against Tennessee.
WR Christian Blake - It was difficult to evaluate any WRs due to the poor play of the offense in general, but Blake is still competing for a roster spot and should be a practice squad candidate at worst.
WR Austin Trammell - Trammell has finally returned from injury and is reportedly back in the returner competition as well. We’ll see if he can make up for lost time, but I think he’s got a practice squad spot pretty much locked up if he continues on his early pace.
OL Ryan Neuzil - One of the few offensive linemen who actually impressed on Friday, Ryan Neuzil stood out in a good way. We’ll see if he gets more opportunities with the second-team, but for now he’s got an excellent chance at the practice squad.
OL Jason Spriggs - Spriggs has missed time with an injury, which hurts his chances of making the roster. However, he’s still a solid depth option who can play both guard and tackle. That’s worth keeping around on the practice squad.
OT Kion Smith - Kion Smith struggled against Tennessee, but that doesn’t change what he is: a developmental tackle prospect. If we see more positive play from the UDFA, I still think he makes the practice squad.
EDGE Shareef Miller - Miller notched a sack late in the game and has continued to show why he’s the “best of the rest” at EDGE. The former fourth-round pick is the easy favorite for this spot.
DT Olive Sagapolu - Olive Sagapolu played just 12 snaps against the Titans and had an up-and-down performance, but with the team waiving John Atkins he seems to have won the backup NT battle. I like his long-term potential, and he could challenge for the roster in 2022.
DT Chris Slayton - Chris Slayton had a quiet day against Tennessee, but played all over the defensive line. I still believe he’s a favorite to make the practice squad due to his versatility.
LB Erroll Thompson - Thompson and fellow UDFA Dorian Etheridge have been neck-and-neck all training camp, and that continued against the Titans. Etheridge still has the slight edge, but Thompson is right there. This is the most competitive battle on the roster right now.
DB Kendall Sheffield - Sheffield missed the game due to an injury, which is not helping his chances of making the roster. He could still wind up on the 53, particularly if Williamson continues to struggle, but the practice squad is probably his floor.
S T.J. Green - Green had a shaky performance against Tennessee, but he was playing primarily at outside CB. That’s not a position I’d really like to see him at—he had been playing more consistently at safety during training camp. Still think he makes it here.
S Dwayne Johnson Jr. - Both Johnson and fellow UDFA J.R. Pace had solid outings against the Titans, but I’ll give the edge to Johnson here for a few more splash plays. Atlanta is likely to deploy 3 safety sets frequently, so don’t be shocked to see them keep several on the practice squad.
What are your thoughts on this possible 53-man roster for the Falcons? Share them in the comments below!