Before the season began, the Falcons placed five players on injured reserve. In that group there was the presumptive starting nickel in Isaiah Oliver, backup left guard Jalen Mayfield, former starting inside linebacker Deion Jones, rotational defensive lineman Marlon Davidson, and rookie tight end John FitzPatrick. Not all of those players were going to be major contributors for the Falcons, but almost all of them would have had a legitimate role in Week 1.
We are now, potentially, on the cusp of some of those players returning to the active roster. Everyone placed on injured reserve just before the beginning of the season is, if they’re healthy enough, eligible to return after Week 4. Oliver and Jones, in particular, had played in the final preseason game and would have seemed close to ready to go with another week or two, so it’s fair to expect we might be seeing one or both of them on the field when the Falcons face the Buccaneers in Week 5.
Let’s take a close look at what kind of role each player will return to if they re-join the roster after this week.
He’s going to have a prominent role for this defense as soon as he’s ready. The Falcons have rotated Mike Ford, Dee Alford, and Erik Harris through the nickel role thus far this season, and while none of them have been abysmal in that role, a healthy Oliver is a fair upgrade on all of them. Ford will retain a major special teams role and will be excellent depth when Oliver’s back, while Harris will stay in his reserve safety and special teams role. It’s fair to wonder what happens with Alford, a player the staff likes and has intriguing upside, once Oliver is back.
That’s to be seen, though. We saw enough from Oliver in the first few weeks of last season to know Dean Pees loves his versatility and physicality, and as soon as he’s healthy enough to be out there he’ll have a prominent role. His addition will be good news for this defense.
It’s unclear what kind of role Jones will be returning to. Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker are locked in as the starters and have fared pretty well, especially Walker, and the staff clearly wants to find playing time for intriguing rookie Troy Andersen. The best Jones can hope for initially is some limited snaps at inside linebacker as a reserve, though he might be able to work his way into something down the line. A trade still seems like a possibility, even if the team hasn’t really commented on it.
Jones may push Nick Kwiatkoski, who has been a scratch most weeks thus far, off the roster entirely.
It’s unclear whether Davidson will be able to return, but if he’s healthy it seems like the team would welcome him back given their unsettled depth along the defensive line. Davidson is long on potential but short on good health thus far in his career, and I’m hopeful he’ll get one more shot here in Atlanta to prove himself and that he’s returning soon. Given that there were rumors that he might not have made the roster before his injury, I’m hesitant to say pencil him in for more than a reserve role, even if I think the team could use him.
In all likelihood, Mayfield will return as the backup for Elijah Wilkinson. The Falcons have done a nice job of giving themselves a reserve option at every spot on the line, with Germain Ifedi capable of playing right guard or right tackle, Chuma Edoga slotting in behind Jake Matthews, and Matt Hennessy behind Drew Dalman. Mayfield may have lost his job to Wilkinson, but I do believe the team has enough faith in his long-term potential that they’ll want him on the roster, likely bumping Colby Gossett off and back onto the practice squad.
It’s possible we’ll see Mayfield at some point this year, but the likelier outcome is that he’s parked on the bench and the team hopes he improves enough to take another crack at left guard in 2023.
He’s likely headed for the practice squad when he gets back, given that the Falcons are set at tight end for now. Like fellow late Georgia pick Justin Shaffer, FitzPatrick will spend 2022 developing and hoping for a roster spot in 2023.
We’ll see how many of these Falcons do return to the roster and who goes to make way for them after Sunday’s game, but I’m willing to bet that Oliver at least will be back out there soon for an Atlanta defense that could really use him.