One of the most interesting battles of the summer for the Falcons was on special teams, and despite your first instinct I’m not talking about punter. With Cordarrelle Patterson in the fold, there was little question who the kick returner would be for the upcoming season, but the punt return battle was another thing entirely. It essentially came down to second-year receiver Chris Rowland and rookie cornerback Avery Williams.
With the news that Rowland has been cut, the job will go to Williams. The Boise State product was insanely productive as a returner in college, averaging 11.6 yards per punt return and 27.4 yards per kick return, scoring 9 times (6 on punt returns, 3 on kick returns). The fact that he’s also been a solid cornerback in preseason and practice undoubtedly helped him here, but it’s that electrifying potential as a returner both now and in a Patterson-less 2022 and beyond that made the Falcons draft him and helped him lock up a spot. The fact that he’s been handling gunner duties in preseason (alongside Frank Darby, at least in the most recent game) only helps his case.
Rowland, who made an impressive catch on Sunday night and was solid as a returner throughout the summer, figures to either land on the practice squad or get picked up by another team given his intriguing speed and success as a returner in college. We’ll hope to see him back in Atlanta, but if not, we wish him great success wherever he lands.
Williams’ athleticism and upside could make him, at worst, a useful reserve at cornerback in the not-too-distant future. I’d bet pretty heavily on him being one of Marquice Williams’ favorite players on special teams right away, though, and he’s the most intriguing punt returner the Falcons have trotted out since Devin Hester. Chances are shortly after you read this, cuts will help shed light on who won other battles at positions like punter and wide receiver, and we’re only hours away from finding out the initial 53 man roster for the Falcons.