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Reviewing the state of Falcons roster battles before the first preseason game

Many roster battles are well on their way to being resolved already.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Before training camp kicked off, we reviewed most of the major camp battles to see who we thought might win and how fierce the competition might be. Now that we’re well into training camp and preseason is right around the corner, it’s a good time to check on how those battles are progressing.

Below, we’ll list the favorite for a starting job based on what we’ve seen to this point in training camp, if there is one. This is based on what has been reported and observed from camp via Kevin Knight, Will McFadden, and Adnan Ikic, as well as additional reports and how work with the first team has been divvied up more generally. We’ll try to stay on top of this list between now and the start of the season when the team’s official depth chart lands, because preseason games in particular might impact what’s below.

Quarterback: Marcus Mariota

There would need to be a major sea change for Mariota not to win the job. Everett Glaze wrote at the start of training camp that it was hard to see Mariota losing the job, and quarterbacks coach Charles London all but declared him the starter early in camp.

Mariota has been sharper than Ridder as a passer thus far in camp and has developed a nice rapport with some of his receiving options, including Kyle Pitts and Drake London, and that plus his familiarity with Arthur Smith and his experience have him looking like the starter. Ridder will make starts this year unless Mariota is stellar and the Falcons are contending, but go ahead and put Mariota’s name down in pen for Week 1.

Starting running back: Still unsettled; Cordarrelle Patterson the de facto starter

No matter what happens, I expect Patterson to be listed atop the depth chart at running back. Allen Strk wrote that Patterson will remain the starter, but rookie Tyler Allgeier will likely end up commanding enough carries to be considered a prominent part of the offense. I think that’s likely true, and while Allgeier has pulled a lot of time with the second string in camp, he and Patterson will likely split carries all year long.

The bigger battle might be brewing down the depth chart, where Damien Williams, Avery Williams, Caleb Huntley, and Qadree Ollison are pushing for a couple of spots. There’s not a lot of clarity there right now, though Huntley has drawn praise from Arthur Smith and Avery Williams has gotten a lot of work as a pass-catching threat.

#3 receiver: Olamide Zaccheaus

Tori McElhaney with the Falcons called him a roster lock earlier this summer, and Zaccheaus has been working like he’ll be a player with a prominent role as the team’s third receiver.

The speedy pass catcher has been a do-everything threat for the Falcons since joining up as an undrafted free agent, logging significant time on special teams and catching some great deep balls. While other players will certainly mix in Zaccheaus is all but locked in to this spot on the depth chart.

Left guard: Elijah Wilkinson

I still think there’s a solid chance we’ll see Jalen Mayfield out there in Week 1, but the ground he needs to make up at this point is significant. The left guard battle appeared to be pretty thin, but Wilkinson has made the shift to the position and has run as the starter throughout camp thus far.

Mayfield got back on the practice field today after missing a couple of practices with a back injury, so he’ll need to be both healthy and effective in the coming weeks to claw back the job he held throughout 2021. If he can’t, Wilkinson has been putting his stamp on the position and looking solid doing so, and the Falcons appear content to roll with him as at least a stopgap starter there. Left guard is still looking like the weakest chain on this offensive line, but we’ll hope whoever wins can provide better than we saw last year.

Center: Still unsettled

One of the few position battles left that remains truly unresolved. The Falcons have rotated Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy evenly with the starters throughout camp, leaving us with no clear indication of who will emerge as the starter.

Adnan Ikic predicted Hennessy would win the job again after holding it throughout most of last year, and that’s as good of a guess as any at the moment. We’ve seen Dalman get beat a couple of times, but Kevin Knight reported that particularly early in camp, he looked good as a blocker and is likely pushing hard as the new regime’s chosen draft pick at the position. That said, I think this one will be settled by how the duo looks in game action, so Friday night and beyond will be really important for Dalman and Hennessy.

Right tackle: Kaleb McGary

When Germain Ifedi signed with the Falcons, it was fair to assume he’d be pushing McGary hard, given that he’s a proven starter and McGary has yet to turn into the kind of player the team expected to get when they traded up to snag him in the first round. Thus far, Adnan Ikic’s bold prediction that Ifedi would win the job has not panned out, however.

McGary has worked as the full-time starter more or less since camp began, and barring a sea change in the battle, he looks to have the job sewn up. In a contract season, it would be great for both McGary and the soon-to-be-flush-with-cap-space Falcons if he blossomed into a stellar right tackle, so let’s hope.

#2 defensive tackle: Anthony Rush

While the defensive line will feature a lot of rotation, it’s clear that Rush is going to step into a major role, especially with Eddie Goldman retiring. He’s been working as the starting nose tackle throughout camp and has looked good doing so, and he’ll likely play next to Jarrett in any four man fronts, as well as next to Jarrett and (I’m guessing here) Ta’Quon Graham in three man fronts. He’ll have a prominent job, in other words, and should be considered the #2 option here.

Starting outside linebackers: Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie/Adetokunbo Ogundeji competing

Per Kevin Knight and Will McFadden, Carter is locked in as a starter, while rookie Ebiketie and improving second-year pro Ogundeji are battling for the other spot. Like the defensive lien, there will be significant rotation here, but this is what we’re looking at for quote-unquote starters at the moment.

My personal guess is that Ogundeji will be considered the starter, because the coaching staff loves him and he proved to be a workhorse in 2021, if nothing else. In my preview, I wrote that it would be Carter and Ebiketie, but the way the team is looking at Ogundeji has given me considerable pause there. Expect Ebiketie to still play a significant role and likely be among the team leaders in sacks, either way.

Inside linebacker: Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker

My personal prediction, though I thought it might be more competitive than it has been. Evans and Walker have been working as the starters throughout camp, with the former Titan and rising Falcon looking ready to cruise into those jobs.

The complicating factors here would be Troy Andersen if he makes a major leap in the next few weeks, and of course the potential return of Deion Jones. I view it as unlikely either one will be able to seriously challenge Evans and Walker for starting jobs between now and the start of the season—Jones isn’t even back out on the field yet—so Atlanta’s starters will be young and physical players. I’m excited to see how they fare.

Nickel cornerback: Mike Ford and Isaiah Oliver competing

Oliver figured to walk into this role once healthy, and perhaps that’s still the final outcome. Mike Ford has made things unexpectedly interesting.

Per many observers, including the gang here at The Falcoholic, Ford has fared well and has gotten significant work with the starters here. With Darren Hall locked in as the team’s top backup at the moment, the question is just whether Ford can ride this hot streak all the way to the gig or whether Oliver will seal it up in the coming weeks. I’d still expect the latter, but Ford now has a strong shot at a roster spot, regardless.

Starting safeties: Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins

As expected. Grant has looked great in camp, showcasing improved coverage chops against Kyle Pitts and others, while Hawkins has been a ballhawk as per usual. Both are working heavily as starters and should be expected to win those roles, and the tandem could be a good one this year. Grant remains my pick for most improved player and breakout defender in 2022.

Expect Erik Harris and likely Dean Marlowe to be the key reserves here.

Returner: Cordarrelle Patterson and Avery Williams

Patterson wants to return kicks, and given that he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber talent in that role, he’ll likely get his wish. Avery Williams should mix in on kicks occasionally and will be the team’s punt returner, in addition to his new role on offense. It’s a good tandem, and as far as I’m aware, neither of them are facing serious threats for those roles.

Punter: Bradley Pinion

Dom Maggio and Seth Vernon figured to duke it out for the right to punt for this Falcons team—and depending on how good the offense is, that could be a busy job—but then Pinion shook loose. Now Vernon will be hoping to hold on to a practice squad spot while Pinion is all but locked into the role. If all goes well, he’ll hold it down all season, and the Falcons won’t need to play punter roulette.