The 2022 offseason has come and gone, with the initial round of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft in the books. Atlanta’s roster now stands at 89 after eight draft selections and 13 UDFA signings. It’s likely we’ll see a few more veteran signings over the summer and into training camp, but this is largely the roster the Atlanta Falcons will have this season.
With the biggest moves behind us, it’s time for my first way-too-early 53-man roster projection of 2022. Obviously, we’ve seen nothing of these players at all thus far, so this is pure speculation based on previous film (for veterans) and college tape/production (for rookies). But it’s a fun exercise, and it’s interesting to see how the projection changes over the course of the summer.
Italics denote a new addition to the roster in 2022.
OFFENSE - 26
QB - 3
This is the first roster projection I’ve ever done without Matt Ryan leading the QB room. It’s a new era in Atlanta, and I expect Marcus Mariota to be the starter—at least for Week 1. Rookie Desmond Ridder should get a legit shot to compete in camp, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t start a game in 2022. Former UDFA Feleipe Franks likely sticks around as a low-cost backup who has some offensive utility and replicates the skillset of Mariota/Ridder.
RB - 4
The release of Mike Davis opens up an opportunity for someone at RB4, but the top-3 spots on the depth chart are probably fairly settled heading into camp. Patterson should still be the starter but will hopefully cede some early-down work. Veteran addition Damien Williams is versatile and can be a good complementary piece. Rookie Tyler Allgeier should be the favorite to win the early-down and short-yardage carries. It’s a tough call between Qadree Ollison and intriguing former UDFA Caleb Huntley, but OIlison’s in-season flashes give him the edge.
FB - 1
The veteran will compete with TE/FB hybrid John Raine once again in training camp, but Keith Smith’s blocking and special teams prowess should still give him the edge.
TE - 4
There’s been a fair amount of turnover at tight end this offseason, but Kyle Pitts remains the clear-cut TE1 and the top target in the passing game. Anthony Firkser replaces Hayden Hurst as the receiving-focused TE2 and brings a lot of experience in the scheme. Rookie John FitzPatrick is a blocking specialist with great size who should take over the Lee Smith role. Former UDFA Parker Hesse, a Smith favorite, offers solid blocking and receiving and is the favorite to stick around as TE4.
WR - 5
The position with by far the most dramatic shakeup on offense, wide receiver will look almost completely different in 2022. Rookie first-rounder Drake London should easily take hold of WR1, while the free agent additions of Auden Tate and Damiere Byrd should compete with RFA Olamide Zaccheaus for the complementary roles. At WR5, I’m giving the slight edge to standout special teams player KhaDarel Hodge, who had 5 ST tackles in 2021 and has the size profile the Falcons seem to prefer at 6’2, 200.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Jalen Mayfield
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
G/T Germain Ifedi
G/T Elijah Wilkinson
C/G Drew Dalman
G Justin Shaffer
One of the worst overall offensive lines in the NFL is, more than likely, going to return all five starters in 2022. The Falcons will be banking on massive improvements from both Jalen Mayfield at left guard and Matt Hennessy at center. LT Jake Matthews and RG Chris Lindstrom are both Pro Bowl-caliber starters who help bolster the group. RT Kaleb McGary didn’t have his fifth-year option picked up and will face significant competition from veterans Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson.
The depth should be better overall this season, with the aforementioned Ifedi and Wilkinson providing a lot of experience at both tackle and guard. Second-year center/guard Drew Dalman should be in the mix as competition for both Mayfield and Hennessy once again. Rookie Justin Shaffer should also have a shot at left guard—we’ll see if he can overtake Mayfield and/or Dalman in camp.
DEFENSE - 24
EDGE - 5
The edge rush group was in massive need of a talent infusion, and the Falcons took some positives steps in free agency and the draft. Veteran Lorenzo Carter is in line for a significant starting role alongside rookie Arnold Ebiketie. Second-year player Adetokunbo Ogundeji will also be counted on to take a step forward after showing some flashes late in the 2021 season. Third-rounder DeAngelo Malone could be an impactful designated pass rusher in his rookie season. John Cominsky, after making a position switch back to EDGE during the 2021 season, has the advantage for the final spot due to his elite length, athleticism, and special teams acumen.
IDL - 5
The position with the least change from 2021 on the roster, the interior defensive line group is once again headlined by Grady Jarrett. Hopefully he’ll be able to get back to a Pro Bowl level with a better supporting cast in 2022. Former second-rounder Marlon Davidson has the potential to earn a significant role as an interior pass rusher and possible base-package 5T. The promising Anthony Rush makes his return at NT, and will hopefully continue to show flashes at his massive size (6’4, 360). Second-year player Ta’Quon Graham should also be a favorite for the roster after finishing strong in 2021. Late veteran addition Vincent Taylor has the edge for the final spot due to his experience and upside.
LB - 4
After losing Foyesade Oluokun in free agency, the Falcons addressed linebacker with a second-round pick and an experienced veteran. If Deion Jones remains on the roster, he’ll presumably be slotted in as a starter. 2020 fourth-rounder Mykal Walker could be in line for an expanded role, especially if Jones is traded. Rashaan Evans, who played under Dean Pees with the Titans, will be relied upon on early downs. Dynamic rookie Troy Andersen will be a core special teams player and could work his way onto the field at any time this season.
CB - 6
The strongest position on the Falcons roster—at least in terms of starters—cornerback got one of the biggest free agent additions on the roster in Casey Hayward. Hayward is a very good CB2 who should perfectly complement rising star A.J. Terrell on the outside. Former second-rounder Isaiah Oliver came on strong in the slot early in 2021 before suffering a season-ending injury. If he can return to that level of play, Atlanta could have a high-level starting trio. 2021 fourth-rounder Darren Hall should fill a versatile depth role as the first man up. Avery Williams struggled on defense but was a quality punt/kick returner for Atlanta in 2021 and should reprise that role if nobody else steps up in camp.
There are a ton of corners on the roster competing for, essentially, one roster spot. I’m throwing a dart here at veteran Mike Ford, who has been a quality special teams contributor and passable reserve player when called upon.
S - 4
Another position where the top players remain virtually unchanged. Jaylinn Hawkins should compete for a starting role after performing admirably when called upon in 2021. Atlanta will be hoping for major strides from 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant, who played a versatile but limited role last season. Veteran Erik Harris returns after suffering a season-ending injury late in the season. He was the team’s most reliable starter at the position and could resume a significant role once healthy. The Falcons also brought in veteran Dean Marlowe—who started 9 games for the Lions in 2021—to provide experienced depth.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Seth Vernon
LS Liam McCullough
There will be major shake-ups in the special teams department this year, but thankfully not at kicker. Younghoe Koo received a sizable extension to keep him locked-in with Atlanta through 2026. At least one UDFA is likely to make the roster, and I’m going with punter Seth Vernon. The 6’5, 230 athlete is a former WR who averaged a 44.9 yards per punt in 2021—good for 6th in the nation overall. Veteran long snapper Beau Brinkley was placed on IR, leaving the job open for Liam McCullough. McCullough hasn’t yet appeared in an NFL game, but spent training camp with the Ravens in 2020 and the Steelers in 2021.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 14
It’s unclear if practice squads will remain at 16 (they were increased due to COVID) or return to 14 for the 2022 season. I’ll keep it at 14 for now.
RB Caleb Huntley - Former UDFA just misses the cut, but should be the first man up in case of injury.
TE/FB John Raine - Another former UDFA who has a tough path to the roster. Raine’s versatility keeps him around.
WR Frank Darby - 2021’s sixth-round pick has a difficult path to the roster. Darby needs to prove himself on offense and special teams to beat out the veterans ahead of him.
WR Jared Bernhardt - Intriguing QB convert. WR/KR with developmental upside.
WR Tyshaun James - Super athletic developmental WR with terrific size (6’2, 216).
G/T Tyler Vrabel - Developmental swing tackle prospect and possible guard convert.
G/T Colby Gossett - End of the roster depth at guard and tackle who the staff seems to like.
G Ryan Neuzil - Former UDFA impressed last preseason and could surprise.
EDGE Jordan Brailford - 2019 7th rounder (Vikings) has some interesting upside.
DT Derrick Tangelo - Intriguing DT prospect who had quality production at Penn State.
DT Timothy Horne - NT prospect with good size (6’5, 321) and length.
LB Nate Landman - Very productive linebacker at Colorado who could be a dark horse for the roster.
CB Matt Hankins - Developmental corner prospect with 3 INT and 5 PD in 2021.
DB Teez Tabor - Experienced, versatile depth DB who can back up multiple spots.
What are your thoughts on this potential roster and practice squad for the Falcons?