We’re in the depths of the offseason now, with very little news to talk about and precious few opportunities to observe the Atlanta Falcons in any meaningful way. However, we did actually get some pertinent information today, as ESPN’s Mike Rothstein compiled an insightful list of notes for us to peruse after observing today’s OTA session.
Some observations from June 9th Falcons OTA — and to be clear the players I listed as not spotted could have been out there at one point or another. Atlanta has had players come in and out for parts of practice throughout the spring, but this is what I caught. pic.twitter.com/0GhRk8ayS6— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) June 9, 2022
It’s worth noting that all of this information is coming from OTAs, and should be taken with the proper level of seriousness. These are very early and technically voluntary practices with little contact allowed. Still, it’s the only data we’ve got, and it’s still fun to talk about. Let’s dive in to Rothstein’s notes.
Marcus Mariota impressive in 7-on-7s
The Falcons have a legitimate quarterback competition on their hands for the first time in the last decade. Veteran Marcus Mariota is the clear favorite, but rookie Desmond Ridder has been impressing early on. During today’s OTA practice, both Mariota and Ridder got in considerable work during 7-on-7 and red zone drills.
It sounds like Mariota was the standout today, as Rothstein charted the veteran as going 8/10 (80%) for 3 TD and 1 INT. He described a few of Mariota’s throws as “really crisp passes”, including a particularly impressive touchdown pass to Kyle Pitts. Meanwhile, this was a weaker day for Ridder, who went 1/6 (16.7%) for a TD and an INT. It’s worth noting that there was a dropped pass, as well.
As Rothstein notes, it’s not at all unexpected for Ridder to struggle more early on compared to a seasoned veteran like Mariota. Considering that Ridder has been impressive in the other practices, I’m not concerned at all about an off day at OTAs.
Mykal Walker catches diving INT, Feleipe Franks has a nice TD reception
There were a handful of highlight plays from today’s practice session. The first that stood out to Rothstein involved third-year linebacker Mykal Walker, who could finally be in line for a starting role in 2022. Walker caught a diving interception off a tipped pass by fellow LB Rashaan Evans. Mariota was targeting WR KhaDarel Hodge on the play. It’s a great team play and it’s always nice to hear good things about Walker, who has always seemed to flash when on the field.
The other highlight play came from an unexpected source: QB/TE/WR extraordinaire Feleipe Franks. Franks had a sliding TD reception during red zone drills, and the entire offensive sideline went nuts. Rothstein points out how Franks is clearly fitting in immediately with his fellow skill position players. I found it hard to believe Atlanta would keep three QBs in my latest roster projection, but Franks’ ability to play multiple spots (and special teams) could make him much easier to keep on the roster.
Cornerback depth chart begins to take shape
The Falcons brought in a, frankly, massive number of DBs and WRs to compete during OTAs and minicamp, and Arthur Smith confirmed that this was absolutely intentional in a previous press conference. That has led to some confusion about the state of the depth chart with so many new faces, but we got a little more clarity during today’s OTA session. With veteran Casey Hayward not present, it was Darren Hall getting the outside reps across from A.J. Terrell. The 2021 fourth-rounder has seemingly worked his way up the depth chart and could be the primary backup behind Atlanta’s starting trio.
In the slot, it was veteran addition Mike Ford getting most of the work with the starters. Isaiah Oliver, who was re-signed by the team after a terrific start to the 2021 season, is still recovering from his ACL injury. He was present at practice but has still not worked his way back into team drills. We haven’t gotten a firm timeline on Oliver’s return, but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t back out there by training camp.
There will be a competition at returner
It’s kind of crazy that the Falcons are having a competition at returner despite the presence of Cordarrelle Patterson on the roster. Patterson’s breakout season on offense has given him protected status, and Atlanta is now searching for someone else to take that mantle. Avery Williams took over for Patterson in 2021 and was pretty darn impressive on both kicks and punts. I’d say he’s the clear favorite, but his transition to running back does add a little bit more intrigue.
Alongside Williams, there were several other big names getting a chance to return punts. Veterans Damiere Byrd (who has extensive punt and kick experience), Bryan Edwards, and Olamide Zaccheaus were getting some opportunities alongside UDFA lacrosse-to-QB-to-WR convert Jared Bernhardt. Rothstein also noted that Williams, CB Mike Ford, and WR KhaDarel Hodge were getting the majority of work at gunner. Those guys could all have an advantage for the final roster.
Drew Dalman working with the starters at center
While Arthur Smith was careful to clarify how they’re managing the depth chart, it was notable to see second-year center Drew Dalman getting the majority of the work with the starters. Matt Hennessy’s status as the incumbent should make him the favorite—and he did have some impressive flashes as a run blocker in 2021—but I wouldn’t be shocked if we see a spirited competition between him and Dalman.
Smith spoke after practice about how the depth chart is a lot more fluid right now, as the team is trying to see how everyone fits in with the starters. He specifically said that “those first and second-team spots take on a bit more meaning” as they get closer to the season. That could mean that we’ll see a lot of mixing-and-matching over the next few weeks before things get a little more settled heading into training camp.
What are your thoughts on today’s practice notes? Any players you’re hoping will stand out this offseason?