The 2022 NFL preseason is officially in the books for the Atlanta Falcons, as we’ve now witnessed three games and the entirety of training camp. Final cuts are just around the corner, as Atlanta must trim the roster from 80 to 53 by Tuesday afternoon. We could start seeing those moves at any time, so it’s time for one final 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad!) before the “final” roster is announced.
Keep in mind that the “final” roster isn’t really final at all, and I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t add some veterans off the waiver wire. I think we’re likely to see signings in the trenches—on the defensive interior and at swing tackle, in particular—and there could be a fair amount of shuffling over the next week. So don’t get too invested in any bottom-of-the-roster players just yet.
If you’re looking for a timeline of how this has evolved since the draft, check out the previous iterations of my projection below.
Post-Draft | June | Pre-Training Camp | Preseason Week 1 | Final
Italics denote a change from the previous roster projection.
OFFENSE - 26
QB - 3
No changes here. Marcus Mariota had a strong preseason and remains the unquestioned starter. Desmond Ridder has done everything you could ask of a rookie in the preseason, showing high-level flashes in extended action against the Lions and Jaguars. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get an opportunity to start at some point in 2022. Feleipe Franks was not a very inspiring quarterback, but his versatility as a receiving tight end and special teams player keeps him on the roster.
RB - 4
Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot will have some difficult decisions to make with this group. The first three players are locked in. We didn’t see much of Patterson or Damien Williams in the preseason, but both should have relatively secure roles in the offense. Rookie Tyler Allgeier impressed in multiple phases, including as a receiver and pass protector. He’ll find his way onto the field quickly. Despite strong performances from Caleb Huntley and Qadree Ollison against the Jaguars, I think Avery Williams remains the fourth RB. He will clearly have a versatile role on this team, and appears to have won the returner battle.
FB - 1
I really don’t think Keith Smith’s job is in danger, to be clear. He’s a terrific special teamer and solid blocking option with good hands. However, the team could consider moving on from Smith in favor of a more versatile TE/FB player—like Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt, or John Raine—if they don’t like the roster math of keeping a specific fullback. Smith’s $1.3M cap savings if cut is also nothing to scoff at, as it’s the second-most of any contract on the team (Olamide Zaccheaus is first at $2.43M). So while I believe it’s unlikely to happen, keep those details in mind.
TE - 4
Kyle Pitts is locked in, obviously, and Anthony Firkser looks entrenched as the starter opposite him. Parker Hesse has continued to play a lot with the ones, even after MyCole Pruitt arrived. It’s possible we see Pruitt start to get more reps as he gets acclimated to the offense, but right now Hesse is the TE3. Pruitt’s versatility as a blocker and receiver makes him an ideal fourth tight end, and I think he makes the roster over rookie John FitzPatrick.
WR - 5
The top-4 of the wide receiver depth chart is more-or-less settled, in my opinion. Drake London had an awesome catch before leaving the Lions game with a “minor” knee injury. Bryan Edwards played sparingly, but looks locked in to a role opposite London. Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd give Atlanta’s offense two speedsters in different flavors: Zaccheaus wins with agility, while Byrd is the true deep threat with 4.27 speed.
It’s clear that KhaDarel Hodge has taken control of WR5. There’s been spirited competition from UDFA Jared Bernhardt and 2021 sixth-rounder Frank Darby, but I don’t see either surpassing Hodge if Atlanta elects to keep just five receivers. With the amount of multiple tight end sets and fullback plays that the Falcons use, keeping six receivers is a luxury the team can’t afford. If the team believes Bernhardt won’t clear waivers, it’s possible they’ll sacrifice depth elsewhere to keep him on the 53—but otherwise, I think he’s ticketed for the squad this season.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Elijah Wilkinson
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
G/T Germain Ifedi
C/G Drew Dalman
G/T Colby Gossett
G Jalen Mayfield
There’s been little intrigue on the starting offensive line outside of center, where there’s still no clear starter between incumbent Matt Hennessy and 2021 fourth-rounder Drew Dalman. So I’m going to continue to stick with my initial prediction of Hennessy remaining the starter—although it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Dalman there Week 1. Veteran Elijah Wilkinson took control of left guard on the second day of camp and never looked back. He’s been a surprisingly solid option there in Jalen Mayfield’s place. Right tackle featured little competition, as McGary has held the job throughout training camp and the preseason.
The depth received a bit of a shakeup with the cut of Rick Leonard, who I predicted would be the swing tackle before the preseason began. That job now falls to Germain Ifedi, who has primarily played right tackle in his career. We’ll see if the team brings in a veteran swing tackle after final cuts. With Leonard departing, there’s now room for Colby Gossett—who has been one of Atlanta’s most reliable reserves this preseason. I believe Jalen Mayfield’s roster spot is secure, for now, but nothing is certain.
DEFENSE - 24
EDGE - 4
I don’t think we see any changes in the EDGE group, though Quinton Bell has certainly made a case for the roster with his strong play as a pass rusher and on special teams. This is one position where things basically went exactly as expected this preseason.
IDL - 5
I actually think the starting trio of Grady Jarrett, Anthony Rush, and Ta’Quon Graham will be solid for the Falcons in 2022. It’s the depth behind them that scares me, as Marlon Davidson missed the entire preseason with injury. UDFA Derrick Tangelo has continued to impress against reserves, but his best fit is likely on the practice squad in 2022. In reality, we’ll probably see 1-2 veteran additions to this group after final cuts. Atlanta needs another nose tackle to rotate with Rush, and a reliable veteran pass rusher wouldn’t hurt either.
LB - 5
All the intrigue in this position group seems to have settled with Deion Jones back at practice. At this time, it seems like he’ll remain on the roster, and Jones seemed fine with a depth and special teams role in a recent interview with Will McFadden. My guess is he’ll be a sub-package player for the defense this season, with potential to be moved at the trade deadline if a team comes with a good enough offer.
Otherwise, I think the top-4 is fairly set. Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker will be the primary starters, with veteran Nick Kwiatkoski rotating in. Rookie Troy Andersen will begin his career on special teams, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes his way onto the field by the end of the year.
CB - 6
One of the deepest positions on the roster, the cornerbacks haven’t been quite as sharp in the preseason as we might have hoped. The top-3 of Terrell, Hayward, and Oliver seems pretty set—though Oliver seems to still be working back from injury. Darren Hall has had an up-and-down preseason, but I think he’ll remain the CB4 for now. Mike Ford is a better special teams player than cornerback, but he’s deep depth on defense. The wild card is Dee Alford, who has almost certainly played himself onto the roster with an exceptional preseason and training camp. Alford will probably start the year as a deep reserve, but could continue to work his way up the depth chart.
S - 4
The safety room has been rock solid all throughout training camp and the preseason. You can write these four players down in sharpie. Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins are your starters, with two good veteran reserves right behind them in Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Bradley Pinion
LS Liam McCullough
No changes here. Bradley Pinion had a shaky outing against the Jets, but bounced back with a terrific game against the Jaguars. He’ll likely handle punts and kickoffs in the regular season. Younghoe Koo was flawless, as usual, in the preseason. Liam McCullough hasn’t yet snapped in a regular season NFL game, but had no issues in the preseason. It seems like he’s finally earned a starting job after bouncing around the NFL for several seasons.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 16
QB Some Body - Look, I couldn’t even guess who it will be, but I’d be surprised if the Falcons didn’t add a practice squad quarterback heading into the season.
RB Qadree Ollison - With Avery Williams taking over the fourth running back spot as the returner, Ollison finds himself just off the 53-man roster.
RB Caleb Huntley - Huntley had a strong final preseason performance and showed he could carry the load for the offense. I think the team keeps him around.
TE John FitzPatrick - Rookie John FitzPatrick wasn’t able to move up the depth chart during training camp or the preseason, and the signing of MyCole Pruitt probably pushes him to the squad this season.
WR Jared Bernhardt - Bernhardt has had one of the best preseasons of any player, but roster math and the team’s personnel preferences probably push him to the squad for 2022.
WR Frank Darby - Darby has improved this year, both on offense and special teams, but I think he’s a practice squad candidate right now.
WR Stanley Berryhill Jr. - Berryhill Jr. didn’t get many opportunities in the preseason, but he was consistently one of the most impressive receivers in training camp. I think the regime keeps him around.
C/G Ryan Neuzil - Neuzil transitioned to center after spending the 2021 season on the practice squad at guard, and I think he’s someone the regime wants to keep around.
G Justin Shaffer - The sixth-round rookie had a good game against the Jaguars, but is likely ticketed for the practice squad this year unless the team moves on from Mayfield.
G/T Tyler Vrabel - It’s tough to pick between Vrabel and fellow UDFA Leroy Watson, who both had up-and-down preseasons overall. Vrabel gets the nod because of his versatility at guard.
EDGE Quinton Bell - Bell has played well enough to make the roster, and could be claimed off waivers. I’m not sure the roster math works in his favor here, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Bell does make the team.
DT Abdullah Anderson - The late camp addition has impressed in the preseason and is an easy favorite for a practice squad spot. He was getting snaps ahead of Tangelo, so it’s possible the two could swap places.
NT Timothy Horne - Horne has impressed on defense, but there have also been some mental errors in terms of penalties. If the Falcons prefer to keep a second NT on the 53-man roster, right now it would be Horne.
LB Nate Landman - Landman has been up-and-down through the preseason, but has absolutely done enough to earn a spot on the practice squad—particularly with Dorian Etheridge’s injury.
CB/S Teez Tabor - Reliable reserve who can play both corner and safety. I’d expect Tabor to be the first call-up if injuries strike in the secondary.
CB Corey Ballentine - Ballentine has had an up-and-down preseason, but he’s shown enough flashes to stick around on the practice squad.
What are your thoughts on this potential roster and practice squad for the Falcons?