The second Falcons preseason game is officially in the books, and while it was better than the first one, it was still pretty terrible. As of Tuesday, Atlanta had also trimmed their roster down to 80, saying goodbye to the following players:
QB A.J. McCarron (injured)
RB Javian Hawkins
WR Austin Trammell
OL Willie Wright
EDGE Shareef Miller
DT Olive Sagapolu
With the third preseason game fast approaching, it’s time for my final 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!) of the 2021 offseason. As you might expect, there hasn’t been much movement outside of some injury replacements and practice squad shuffling. This is my best guess based on the players on the roster, but I think there’s a fair chance that Atlanta adds some outside help after final cuts—particularly at QB.
Here are all the versions of my 53-man projection, so you can follow along:
Let’s get started. Italics denote changes from the previous roster.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
We haven’t seen Matt Ryan at all this preseason, though that seems likely to change on Sunday. What we have seen are very disappointing performances from both A.J. McCarron—who, sadly, tore his ACL during Saturday’s preseason game and will be out for the season—and Feleipe Franks. Franks is the default QB2 now, although the signing of Josh Rosen could make things interesting. More than likely, Atlanta will be scouring the waiver wire for their backup after final cuts.
RB - 4
Cordarrelle Patterson (KR)
We got our first glimpse of Qadree Ollison on Saturday, and it was very encouraging. Meanwhile, with the surprise cut of Javian Hawkins this week, it seems like UDFA Caleb Huntley has emerged as the clear favorite for the final roster spot at RB.
FB - 1
Keith Smith hasn’t played at all, which means he’s probably safe along with the rest of the projected starters. He’s a great special teams player and has been involved as a receiver with the offense in camp.
TE - 4
We’ve seen little to nothing of the top-3 TEs on this list, but we’ve seen quite a bit of the UDFA guys. I still think John Raine is the favorite for the fourth TE spot due to his versatility, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Atlanta ends up adding someone off the waiver wire as well.
WR - 5
Just like the other groups on this list, the projected starters haven’t played at all—and are probably safe. Tajae Sharpe has consistently looked like the best of the receivers who are playing in the preseason games, and seems like the heavy favorite for WR4. After a very quiet preseason and camp, Frank Darby finally had some positive plays against the Dolphins. Will that be enough to secure his roster spot? I’m not sure, but I still think the team favors him over someone like Christian Blake.
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
G/T Jason Spriggs
Of the starters, only Josh Andrews and Kaleb McGary have played at all during the preseason. Andrews had a bounce-back game after a dreadful performance against the Titans’ backups, but I’m still not comfortable with him as the starter. McGary had a solid outing in his return to action and should still be the Week 1 starter at right tackle.
Speaking of bounce-back games, both Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman improved significantly in Miami. We also saw an impressive performance from Jason Spriggs, who made a strong case for the roster with his versatility at tackle and guard.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 4
Dante Fowler Jr.
No change here, as the rookie Adetokunbo Ogundeji has continued to impress. He got a lot of playing time against Miami’s starters and looked like he belonged, outside of one missed tackle. Of the others, only Jacob Tuioti-Mariner has really gotten any playing time, but his job and the jobs of both Fowler and Means appear to be safe.
IDL - 6
We didn’t see any of Marlon Davidson or John Cominsky in the last game, but their roster spots are safe. Meanwhile, Jonathan Bullard has continued his impressive camp and preseason. He’s made a very strong case for the roster, and his ability to play both inside and outside adds to his value. Rookie Ta’Quon Graham has been up-and-down, but has made enough plays—and has enough long-term upside—that he’ll stick around on the final roster.
LB - 5
We haven’t seen Deion Jones or Foye Oluokun at all this preseason, but we might get our chance on Sunday. The coverage from the linebacker corps has been severely lacking in their absence. Mykal Walker has continued to play well, and Brandon Copeland has been an asset in run defense and as a blitzer. Dorian Etheridge had a quieter outing against the Dolphins, but still looks like the best of the remaining linebackers—Erroll Thompson’s limitations in coverage were blatantly exposed by Miami.
CB - 6
Avery Williams (PR)
We got our first look at Fabian Moreau on the outside, and it was very impressive. Moreau more than held his own against Miami’s starters and could be one of the biggest surprises on the defense. Chris Williamson once again had an up-and-down day, but he looks like the best of Atlanta’s reserve options. Darren Hall’s aggressive style has led to some mistakes, but he’s got the upside to stick around. Meanwhile, Avery Williams has pretty clearly been the best returner in the preseason and has made plays at cornerback. I think we can pencil him in as the winner of the returner battle.
S - 4
Sunday’s game should be our first glimpse of Duron Harmon and Erik Harris in action, but the reserve safeties have impressed in their absence. After a quiet camp, Richie Grant had arguably the most impressive play on defense against Miami. He’s been making steady progress and should be the third safety. Meanwhile, Jaylinn Hawkins has also had an impressive preseason and that continued against the Dolphins.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Cameron Nizialek
LS Josh Harris
Younghoe Koo hit an impressive 50+ yard field goal in this game, and generally looked sharp and accurate throughout. Cameron Nizialek didn’t punt in this one—Dom Maggio got an opportunity and looked good—but he remained the holder for Koo and got some work on kickoffs. That tells us what we need to know: Nizialek has almost certainly won the punter competition.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 16
QB Josh Rosen - Atlanta’s emergency QB depth signing has a tough road to the roster on such short notice, but not an impossible one. If the team keeps Franks as QB2 (unlikely), then Rosen would be a logical practice squad candidate.
RB D’Onta Foreman - Foreman survived the most recent round of cuts, which means he’s got a strong chance to get this practice squad spot. He’s a physical back who clearly fits the mold of what Smith is looking for, but he hasn’t been as impressive as UDFA Caleb Huntley.
TE Parker Hesse - Hesse and Raine have continued to fight over the 4th TE spot, but Raine still has the slight edge. A converted defensive end, Hesse still has long-term upside.
WR Christian Blake - It’s tough leaving Blake off the roster, but if it comes down to a tie between him and rookie Frank Darby, the team is probably going to lean towards the draft pick. Blake could get interest from other teams, but if he doesn’t, could stick on the squad.
WR Austin Trammell - Trammell got absolutely hosed by his injury, but I think there’s a decent chance that he returns on the practice squad. His start to camp was very impressive, and the team could use a slot receiver to groom for 2022.
OL Ryan Neuzil - Ryan Neuzil has continued to impress in limited opportunities, but it’ll be hard for him to make the roster this year over the veterans. He’ll be a practice squad stash who will be a strong roster competitor in 2022.
OL Sam Jones - Sam Jones is valuable for his ability to play all three spots on the offensive line, and he’s been solid throughout the preseason. That makes him a logical “first man up” lineman to keep on the practice squad.
OT Kion Smith - Kion Smith hasn’t gotten much play time, but he’s a long-term developmental project at tackle that is worth stashing on the squad for a season.
EDGE Shareef Miller - Even though Miller was cut this week, I still think he’s got a solid chance to return to the practice squad. A former fourth-round pick, Miller has upside that’s worth developing.
DT Chris Slayton - With both John Atkins and Olive Sagapolu cut, it appears that Chris Slayton has won the backup NT job. That means a spot on the practice squad, with the potential to stick on the roster in 2022 after Davison’s likely departure.
LB Erroll Thompson - Thompson and fellow UDFA Dorian Etheridge have been neck-and-neck thus far, but Thompson’s weakness in coverage was put on full display against the Dolphins. I still like his special teams and run stuffing upside, but he’s a limited player and is probably going to be a practice squad guy this season.
LB Emmanuel Ellerbee - A late addition to the roster during training camp, Ellerbee had an impressive outing against the Dolphins. With Atlanta opting for just five LBs and probably saying goodbye to one of Jones or Oluokun in 2022, it’s worth keeping Ellerbee around as depth.
DB Kendall Sheffield - Sheffield has continued to miss time, but has managed to avoid getting waived/injured. That means he’s still competing for a roster spot, but is more likely to end up on the practice squad.
S T.J. Green - Green has had a shaky preseason after a strong training camp, but he’s still arguably the highest upside safety of the reserve options. He’ll stick around as depth on the practice squad once again.
S J.R. Pace - It’s been a tight battle between the UDFA safeties for this final practice squad spot, but J.R. Pace pulled ahead after the Dolphins game. Pace has been solid, not spectacular, but has managed to keep that level of play through both games.
What are your thoughts on this possible 53-man roster for the Falcons? Share them in the comments below!