The first week of Atlanta Falcons training camp is in the books, and I had the opportunity to observe it all myself. It was awesome to spend a week at Flowery Branch getting to know the players and coaching staff, and I hope my coverage helped you get a better idea of how Atlanta’s roster is progressing as they prepare for the 2022 NFL season.
We’re now a week away from the Falcons’ first preseason game against the Detroit Lions. I think the starters are unlikely to play more than a handful of snaps in the opener, but it will give us an opportunity to evaluate this roster against some outside competition for the first time. But how does the roster stand going in to the first preseason game?
I’ve taken all my observations and notes from seven days of training camp practice and used them to update my 53-man roster projection (and practice squad). There’s definitely been some movement from my pre-training camp projection a few weeks back, but not as much as some would have expected.
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
Italics denote a change from the previous roster projection.
OFFENSE - 26
QB - 3
After the first week of camp, we’ve got a clearer picture of the quarterback situation. It essentially followed my pre-camp prediction: Marcus Mariota is the better player right now and is comfortably the starter. Desmond Ridder, however, has impressed and continued to grow. There isn’t necessarily a big gulf between the two at this stage. Mariota looks more polished, in-command, and accurate. He’s also been a lot more comfortable using his legs to pick up yards, which could be a significant part of the offense in 2022.
Ridder appears to have the livelier arm, and he’s made some really impressive throws. The accuracy tends to vary a bit more with Ridder, however, and he hasn’t been as sharp in the team sessions. He’s also been hesitant to run and tends to throw the ball away instead of trying to scramble for a positive gain. Again, this is all totally understandable for a rookie in his first NFL camp. The fact that it isn’t immediately obvious when Mariota leaves and Ridder comes in is a good sign.
Both quarterbacks have also taken excellent care of the football. The one interception of training camp so far came on a bobbled pass, and it certainly wasn’t the QB’s fault. Feleipe Franks will technically continue to be listed at QB, but he’s going to play tight end 99% of the time. In that respect, he’s been far better than anticipated. Franks has been one of Ridder’s favorite targets, and he could have a real role on offense this season.
RB - 4
There hasn’t been any movement on the depth chart, but we have learned more about each of these players. Cordarrelle Patterson has continued to look like an awesome pass-catcher and we know what he can do on the ground, but has only had a small share of reps. Pretty typical for a “star” veteran. Tyler Allgeier was solid to open camp, but has really stood out with the introduction of pads and some contact. I’d say he’s been the most consistent rusher overall.
Damien Williams looked terrific over the first four days and has a well-rounded skillset that will make him a key member of the rotation. Meanwhile, Avery Williams has proven himself as a significant threat in the receiving game. As a rusher, things are still coming together, but his value as a pass-catcher and returner all but guarantee this roster spot.
FB - 1
There hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for the fullbacks with limited contact and only a handful of days in pads. Keith Smith remains the favorite due to his quality hands, blocking chops, and special teams acumen.
TE - 4
No major changes to the tight end group, though I do wonder if Feleipe Franks’ emergence winds up changing the math at the position. Kyle Pitts has obviously been amazing. He’s virtually uncoverable 1-on-1 and has played a huge role as one of Mariota’s favorite targets in team sessions. Anthony Firkser has been very effective as a pass-catcher, as well. You can tell there is existing chemistry between him and Mariota from their days in Tennessee.
Parker Hesse is in the lead for the two-way TE3 role, doing a lot of things as a blocker and catching passes on occasion. Rookie John FitzPatrick has the highest ceiling as a blocker, and should be able to carve out a role there by the team the season starts.
WR - 5
No changes to the five receivers I’m projecting to make the roster, though there has been a slight shift in the pecking order. Rookie Drake London has been terrific and is going to be the unquestioned WR1 to open the season. It was what we expected, but he still deserves credit for an awesome camp. Bryan Edwards was looking really good as the WR2 before he got a little banged up with a shoulder injury. He’s been playing on a limited snap count over the past few days, but his role looks secure.
It’s obvious that the team views Olamide Zaccheaus as the WR3, as they’re giving him the starter treatment and peppering him with targets. He’ll have a versatile role and clearly has the support of the coaching staff. In terms of the other veterans competing for the roster, it’s a really tough call. I think Damiere Byrd has the lead for WR4, as he offers excellent deep speed and a lot of experience. WR5 is really an open battle between Auden Tate, KhaDarel Hodge, and Geronimo Allison. Hodge’s special teams acumen could be what makes this projection wrong in the end, but I just couldn’t bring myself to cut Tate. He’s caught nearly everything thrown his way and has looked like a monster in the red zone. We also know he’s an excellent blocker.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Elijah Wilkinson
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
G/T Germain Ifedi
OT Rick Leonard
C/G Drew Dalman
G Jalen Mayfield
There hasn’t been a lot of shifting up until this point, but that’s about to change. First things first: Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom are untouchable at left tackle and right guard, respectively. Arthur Smith made it clear that the other three spots were up for grabs. So far, we’ve seen that play out at left guard and center, while right tackle has remained in the hands of Kaleb McGary through the entire first week.
Incumbent starter Jalen Mayfield got the start at left guard on Day 1, but it’s been veteran Elijah Wilkinson every day since. It’s safe to say that Wilkinson has taken over the job, at least for now. Whether Mayfield wins it back or another signing comes in to compete later in camp, we’ll have to see. At center, we’ve seen an even split between incumbent Matt Hennessy and Drew Dalman. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a significant difference in the line’s performance with one or the other, so I’m going to leave my initial projection of Hennessy in place.
I’m a little surprised that Germain Ifedi hasn’t gotten an opportunity to challenge McGary thus far, but McGary has been solid in his own right. As both Ifedi and McGary are veterans with plenty of experience, I wonder if the team is waiting to figure out the center position before opening things up at right tackle. It would be wise to evaluate one position at a time, instead of having constant chaos on the line.
I’ve got a little bit of a shakeup here in terms of the depth. Former fourth-rounder Rick Leonard appears to have a clear leg up for the swing tackle role, as he’s been manning LT with the second team all through camp (and looking respectable). With Leonard coming up, someone must get bumped down, and right now that’s sixth-round rookie Justin Shaffer. Shaffer certainly hasn’t done anything wrong thus far, but the math for him to make it as a pure guard is difficult right now. Unless the team is willing to move on from Mayfield—which I believe is very unlikely despite his rocky start to camp—Shaffer may need to spend 2022 on the practice squad.
DEFENSE - 24
EDGE - 4
This position group seems very settled, much like it did going into training camp. Lorenzo Carter is the clear-cut EDGE1 and has played the most snaps of anyone. He’s deployed in pretty much every package, and it seems like the Falcons will get him out there as much as he’s able. Rookie Arnold Ebiketie seems to be the primary partner for Carter in pass-rushing situations, while Ade Ogundeji is a fixture in the base packages. DeAngelo Malone has continued to take more and more reps with the starters, but will likely remain a rotational player in 2022.
IDL - 5
There’s been a lot of upheaval on the interior defensive line over the past month. First, veteran Eddie Goldman was signed, then he retired a few days later. Earlier this week, it was announced that Vincent Taylor—who had been playing with the starters in pass-rush packages—would miss the entire 2022 season with an Achilles rupture.
The Falcons haven’t made any significant moves to address these losses so far. I’m not sure if they’re waiting for final cuts, or if they’re confident in some of the young players stepping up. It could easily be a combination of the two. But for now, we’ll go with players on the current roster for filling out this group.
The top-4 are pretty much set at this point, though Marlon Davidson has had a fairly quiet camp with the starters thus far. Grady Jarrett has been excellent, while Anthony Rush and Ta’Quon Graham are playing exclusively with the starters. After them, there’s a logjam of impressive players who could be in the running for the fifth (and possibly even sixth) spots. Veteran Nick Thurman was getting a lot of work with the starters in Anthony Rush’s absence, while Derrick Tangelo, Jalen Dalton, and Timmy Horne have all had a lot of flashes with the second and third team units.
I’m going to lean towards Tangelo, because he’s been the most consistently impressive and I think the Falcons need a versatile “fifth man” who can contribute against the run and pass. But it could go to any of the guys I mentioned at this point.
LB - 5
This group shook out a little differently than I was anticipating. It turns out that Rashaan Evans is the linebacker taking the most snaps with the starters, and he isn’t being taken off the field in passing situations. His coverage is mediocre at best, so he’ll need to be protected there, but it seems like one of his major responsibilities will be blitzing on passing downs. He’s been very effective in that role through the first week of camp, so that could explain his rise to the top—coupled with the fact that he’s the best “thumper” against the run on the roster.
Mykal Walker is the other starting linebacker next to Evans. He’s generally been the “QB spy” in 7-on-7 and has looked good in coverage against everyone not named Kyle Pitts. Nick Kwiatkoski is the third linebacker and will come in whenever Evans or Walker need a breather. Rookie Troy Andersen is still playing mostly with the reserves, but has flashed when he’s gotten opportunities with the starters. His athleticism and ability in coverage are obvious—it’s really just a matter of how quickly he can acclimate to the NFL game.
I think the chance that Deion Jones remains on the roster after final cuts is low, regardless of the team’s insistence that they won’t cut him. But if he stays, he’ll have some kind of sub-package role in coverage and potentially as a blitzer.
CB - 6
Cornerback has actually played out more-or-less as I was expecting going in to camp. A.J. Terrell looks awesome and Casey Hayward has been strong, as well. Isaiah Oliver has been practicing mostly with the second-team as he continues to recover from his injury, and we’ve seen Mike Ford step in to the slot in his absence. Ford has been solid with the starters, but I don’t think he’s a threat to Oliver once he returns to health.
Darren Hall has been impressive overall and I think he’ll be the “first man up” on the outside and in dime packages. CFL standout Dee Alford has continued to separate himself from the pack in the race for the sixth corner spot. He’s played sticky coverage against pretty much everyone and operates with a lot of confidence.
S - 4
The biggest happy surprise of training camp so far? Richie Grant playing great. He’s legitimately the only defender not named A.J. Terrell who has had any consistent success in coverage against Kyle Pitts, and he’s been exceptional all over the field. We’ll see if it translates to the games, but so far, I’d put him just behind Terrell and Casey Hayward in terms of “best players in the secondary”.
Jaylinn Hawkins has had a good camp, as well, but hasn’t flashed quite as much as Grant. The starting duo of Grant and Hawkins looks fairly settled after the two have maintained those spots over the entire first week of training camp.
Erik Harris and Dean Marlowe have both looked like capable reserves who can step in to the starting lineup without an issue. Neither has been as impressive as Grant or Hawkins, and they’ve worked primarily with the second-team, but they’ve been reliable. The depth at safety is in good hands, and Harris in particular could factor in to three-safety sets.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Bradley Pinion
LS Liam McCullough
No changes here. We finally got a chance to see Bradley Pinion and Seth Vernon punt, and both look good. Arthur Smith’s comments seem to indicate that the team expects Pinion to earn the job, which isn’t surprising.
PRACTICE SQUAD - 16
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. He’ll be the first man up in case of injury.
TE/FB Tucker Fisk - It’s a tough call here between Fisk and John Raine, but I think Fisk has more upside as a blocker due to his size and stature—he might be the most “jacked” player on the roster relative to his height.
WR KhaDarel Hodge - It’s really difficult to leave Hodge off the roster considering his special teams acumen, but I think Auden Tate has been too good on offense to cut.
WR Stanley Berryhill Jr. - The most impressive of the reserve receivers, Berryhill Jr. has been showing off crisp route running and reliable hands. He’s been one of the top targets for Desmond Ridder on the second team.
WR Jared Bernhardt - Bernhardt hasn’t quite matched Berryhill in the team sessions, but he’s had a lot of impressive 1-on-1 reps to show off his potential. The team loves him and I’d expect him to get a year to grow on the squad.
C/G Ryan Neuzil - Neuzil is transitioning 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/T Colby Gossett - Gossett is taking all the reps at right guard with the second team and has been solid. His flexibility at tackle helps him, too.
G Justin Shaffer - The sixth-round rookie has a difficult path to the roster considering he’s a pure guard. We’ll see if he can work his way up the depth chart over the remainder of camp and the preseason.
EDGE Jordan Brailford - There haven’t been a ton of early flashes from the depth group at EDGE, but Brailford did have an impressive sack.
DT Jalen Dalton - Dalton could easily be in the mix for the roster due to his size and versatile skillset, but he’s just edged out by Derrick Tangelo.
DT Timothy Horne - Horne has also impressed consistently with the reserves. 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 start of camp. He’s a good, instinctual player but the lack of high-end athleticism limits him to a reserve role.
LB Dorian Etheridge - It’s been an active camp battle between Landman and Etheridge for the title of practice squad linebacker, but I think the answer might just be to “keep both”. Etheridge has the special teams acumen and has looked a little quicker, but hasn’t been as sharp in run defense.
CB/S Teez Tabor - Reliable reserve who can play both corner and safety. I’d expect Tabor to be a frequent call-up if injuries strike in the secondary.
CB Cornell Armstrong - Armstrong is getting a lot of work with the second-team and seems to be a favorite of the coaching staff.
P Seth Vernon - We haven’t had much of a chance to observe the punting battle yet, but I think Vernon will impress enough to stick around on the practice squad.
What are your thoughts on this potential roster and practice squad for the Falcons?