Last year, a decimated and cheaply constructed Falcons roster had some room for undrafted free agents, and the biggest surprise was that more of them didn’t make the roster outright. Quarterback/tight end/project Feleipe Franks and linebacker Dorian Etheridge were the only two who ultimately made the squad, but several wound up sticking on the practice squad throughout 2021 and now have the opportunity to push for roster spots in 2022.
Atlanta’s spent this offseason making additions both major and minor through free agency, and there are comparatively few spots that seem open for undrafted free agents to grab. There’s still a chance a couple could push their way onto the roster, though, and there’s enough intriguing players here to think the practice squad will be well-stocked in September. Who might actually make the roster, though, and what factors might help determine that?
While their contracts are similar in structure, we’re not going to cover CFL imports Dee Alford and Brayden Lenius here. Look for an in-depth look at their chances from Allen Strk later this week, though.
WR Stanley Berryhill
A name to file away for a few different reasons. Berryhill was a productive enough slot receiver at Arizona when called upon, but he did excellent work as a gunner on special teams in college and would likely be getting a lot of work there if he made a roster in the pros.
Berryhill’s best shot would be to push KhaDarel Hodge off the roster, but failing that he still has a shot to stick if the team keeps six wide receivers because of that special teams value and his interesting upside as a receiving option. There are a lot of options on this roster today, but players like Auden Tate and Geronimo Allison don’t offer much in the way of proven special teams contributions. If Berryhill can impress this summer, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that he’ll latch on with a special teams focus the way Olamide Zaccheaus did back in 2019.
DT Derrick Tangelo/DT Bryce Rodgers/DL Timothy Horne
The Falcons don’t have settled depth on the interior. Grady Jarrett is very obviously locked in, and you have to figure Ta’Quon Graham, Marlon Davidson, and Anthony Rush have legs up on jobs, with Vincent Taylor very much in the mix as well.
With the team also planning to add to the defensive line, it might seem like there’s no shot anyone makes it, but it’s worth noting that nothing is actually settled. Davidson did not shine last year, we’re still waiting to see how good Graham can be, and Rush and Taylor are solid but not irreplaceable players. It’s not at all outside of the realm of possibility that an undrafted player could catch fire and push Taylor in particular to the side.
Tangelo is one of the players you should be keeping an eye on this summer, as he was productive in college and is legitimately talented.
OLB Kuony Deng
The Falcons invested heavily in their outside linebacker group this offseason, which makes sense when you consider they had the league’s most abysmal pass rush in 2021. The additions of Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone to go with Adetokunbo Ogundeji gives them a young group with some real promise.
You’ll notice that list is only four names long, though, and there’s nobody who can be considered to be a strong bet to make the roster after that quartet. Carter’s only on a one year deal and the team needs to continue to add capable young pass rushers to the mix. Deng, who has terrific length, athleticism and has very obviously not fully tapped into his upside after missing a lot of time the past two seasons in college, should have a real shot at the roster if the Falcons don’t make additions.
P Seth Vernon
Vernon has, by far, the most straightforward path to the roster. If he beats out Dom Maggio this summer and is impressive enough to make Atlanta comfortable with giving him a real shot as their punter, he’s going to be on the 53 man roster.
This competition does feel truly wide open. Maggio was around all last year but the Falcons spun the punter wheel repeatedly without giving him a crack at the starting job, and Vernon is a solid player with interesting size and athleticism for the position.
Signing bonuses and guaranteed salary
As Pride of Detroit broke down recently regarding the Lions undrafted free agents, guaranteed salary numbers and signing bonuses can provide a clue about how a team feels about an undrafted free agent. Those assumptions need to be borne out by how they do in practice, but it’s a good quick-and-dirty guide for how much the team coveted them and/or how many other teams they were competing with in order to sign them.
Here’s a list of all the undrafted free agents with guarantees, via Over The Cap.
DT Derrick Tangelo: $50,000
CB Matt Hankins: $50,000
LB Kuony Deng: $50,000
DT Timmy Horne: $35,000
S Brad Hawkins: $35,000
WR Jared Bernhardt: $35,000
WR Stanley Berryhill: $35,000
WR Tyshaun James: $30,000
TE Leroy Watson: $25,000
LB Nate Landman: $15,000
And here are all the Falcons UDFAs who received signing bonuses, which might indicate the team’s level of interest in them.
CB Matt Hankins: $6,666
WR Stanley Berryhill: $5,000
LB Nathan Landman: $2,666
S Brad Hawkins: $1,666
WR Tyshaun James: $1,666
DT Derrick Tangelo: $1,666
DT Bryce Rodgers: $833
OT Tyler Vrabel: $500
You can’t take these as clear-cut indicators of who the team might keep, because a player with more guaranteed money could bomb a bit this summer and be gone, while someone like Vrabel or Vernon could surprise. It certainly does seem like the Falcons are high on some of these players, in particular Hankins, Tangelo, and Deng, based on the structures of their contracts.
Who’s sticking around?
The real test will be what happens in practices and preseason game, obviously.
The best opportunity here currently belongs to Seth Vernon, who despite the lack of guaranteed money or bonuses has only one man to beat to make the roster and start. Brad Hawkins, Nathan Landman, Stanley Berryhill, the defensive tackles, and Kuony Deng all have a little daylight in their respective position groups to force their way onto the roster, and will be well worth keeping an eye on. Still others, like the intriguing Tyshaun James and tight-end-turned-offensive-lineman Leroy Watson, should be very much in the mix for practice squad spots.
As I noted above, though, this isn’t a roster where there appear to be a ton of openings. It’s hard to see any of the offensive or defensive linemen sticking with so many veterans already on the roster and the team pledging to add more competition to the trenches this summer. It’s hard to see any of the defensive backs or wide receivers sneaking through when the team has assembled so many veteran options and will be winnowing down shortly.
Ultimately, you’ll see at least five or six of these players make it through the summer and onto the practice squad, because there’s really intriguing talent here and they may well prove to be long-term contributors. Beyond Vernon and potentially Deng, though, I’m not sure any of them are going to make the 2022 roster, and even his chances appear to be 50/50 at this point.