Now that free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft draft are (mostly) behind us, it’s time to take a closer look at the Atlanta Falcons’ roster heading in to the summer. Outside of a few additions and subtractions here and there in the course of training camp and the preseason, this is the roster Atlanta will be working with during the 2022 season.
We’ll kick things off with a look at the projected starters and players competing for those spots. Next up is special teams. Unchanged for nearly a decade, the group has undergone significant turnover in recent years. Kicker Younghoe Koo is the only returning starter, while long snapper and punter will be manned by new faces in 2022.
Next up, second-year returner and recent running back convert Avery Williams.
RB Avery Williams
Contract: $885K cap hit in 2022, rookie contract through 2024
Career Production: 15 games played, 1 game started | 22 total tackles, (11 solo), 15.4% MTR, 1 FF | 1 PD, 78.6% completion rate allowed, 123.8 passer rating allowed | 20 punt returns, 153 yards (7.7 average), 23 long | 23 kick returns, 490 yards (21.3 average), 38 long | 48.0 overall PFF grade
2021 Production: Same as above
Previous Teams: Drafted in the 5th Round (183rd overall) by the Atlanta Falcons (2021-present)
The Falcons put a lot of emphasis on reshaping their special teams unit during the 2021 season, with a big marquee signing at returner in Cordarrelle Patterson. Little did we know that an unheralded fifth-round rookie would wind up performing so well at returner—coupled with Patterson’s emergence as a vital offensive weapon—that he would completely take over both punt and kick return duties by the end of the season. That player, of course, was cornerback Avery Williams.
Williams—who is now transitioning to running back—actually found his way onto the field early in his rookie season due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. He was thrust into the lineup in Week 4 against Washington after Isaiah Oliver’s injury, and wound up playing a significant number of snaps in Weeks 7-9 as well. Williams played primarily in the slot and was OK at times, but got absolutely blasted by Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb in Week 9. That marked the end of his time on defense, as Williams would get just 5 snaps over the remainder of the season.
Where Williams would continue to play, and excel, was on special teams. Starting in Week 2, Williams would see 63% or more of the special teams snaps on teams in every game that he was active. He took control of both punt and kick returns as Patterson transitioned to an entirely offensive role, grading out as one of the best kick returners according to PFF. While his stats weren’t eye popping, his ability was obvious. Now Williams will be transitioning to running back, where he hasn’t played since high school. We’ll see how quickly he can contribute on offense—in theory, many of his skills as a returner should translate well—but as long as he wins the return job in camp, his roster spot should be secure.
Projection: Avery Williams is the heavy favorite to win the returner job in training camp after an exceptional rookie season. His new position at running back should, theoretically, make him easier to carry on the roster—but we’ll have to wait and see if he can provide anything on offense in 2022.