Training camp is not right around the corner, unfortunately, but the time will pass quickly nonetheless. Before you know, a summer that promises to be mighty competitive will be here.
It’s too early to do an in-depth training camp preview—we don’t even know when it will be just yet—but it’s not too late to think about how positions might shake out. There are three in particular I think will be incredibly competitive this year, for reasons that range from sheer numbers to a lack of high-end options as depth, and it’s worth taking a closer look at those here and now in the sleepy days of May.
Here’s my three. What’re yours?
Locked in: Drake London
Strong bets: Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge, Penny Hart
Hopefuls: Frank Darby, Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali, Ra’Shaun Henry, Keilahn Harris, Xavier Malone, Justin Marshall
This should be one of the most competitive position groups on the roster, both because there are so many players competing for roles and because it’s far from the strongest on this team.
Drake London is locked in as the team’s top receiver and should have a terrific year, and I’d bet heavily on Hollins and Miller being the #2 and #3 wide receivers if the Falcons don’t add anyone else. Hart and Hodge, who carry significant special teams value, are likely to make the team as well.
That leaves seven players competing for, at best, a single roster spot. Hart is probably on the shakiest ground out of any of the players I mentioned before, and perhaps a Darby, Bernhardt, Malone, or Marshall shows enough this summer to knock him off, while a couple make the practice squad. The dropoff after London ensures there should be some intrigue, and the fact that the team did like Bernhardt a year ago, seem unwilling to give up their Darby dreams, and imported a couple of intriguing undrafted players means there’s a chance someone could come out of nowhere.
Projection (5): WR1 Drake London, WR2 Mack Hollins, WR3 Scotty Miller, WR4 KhaDarel Hodge, WR5 Penny Hart
Practice squad (2): Justin Marshall, Jared Bernhardt
Locks: A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Clark Phillips
Strong bets: Dee Alford, Tre Flowers, Mike Hughes
Roster hopefuls: Darren Hall, Cornell Armstrong, Javelin Guidry, Jamal Peters, Dylan Mabin, Matt Hankins
You would expect the position group with the largest number of plays to be the most competitive, and I think there will be something to that with the Falcons this summer at cornerback.
Terrell is the clear-cut top starter and I fully expect Okudah to take on the starting job opposite him, setting the team up with a pair of young starters. The nickel cornerback competition ought to come down to rookie Phillips (an absolute roster lock), Mike Hughes, and Dee Alford, with Phillips being my penciled-in favorite for the gig at the moment given his intriguing upside and aggressive style of play. Hughes should make it as inside-outside depth, Alford’s compelling 2022 should give him a leg up as a reserve at nickel, and Flowers could be the sixth cornerback owing to his ability to also play safety.
That would leave some players who were fixtures a year ago on the roster on the outside looking in. Hall is a 2021 draft pick who had a prime opportunity to seize a major role last year but scuffled, eventually losing playing time to Armstrong, who also will need a tremendous summer to push his way onto the roster. CFL import Peters is the most interesting player here outside of those two, but he may simply not be able to hang on owing to the sheer number of options Atlanta has.
Expect the last couple of spots to come down to Armstrong, Hall, Flowers, and Allford, with Peters maybe forcing his way into the conversation. The competition for those last couple of spots should be fierce.
Projection (6): CB1 A.J. Terrell, CB2 Jeff Okudah, CB3 Clark Phillips, CB4 Mike Hughes, CB5 Dee Alford, CB6/S4 Tre Flowers
Practice squad (2): Darren Hall, Cornell Armstrong
Offensive line depth
Locks: Germain Ifedi
Strong bets: Matt Hennessy
Roster hopefuls: Jalen Mayfield, Justin Shaffer, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn, Ethan Greenidge, Josh Miles, Tyler Vrabel, Kyle Hinton, Jonotthan Harrison
It’d be fair to throw the defensive interior and EDGE here, but I think we’re reasonably confident in how those positions will shake out, with the only real intrigue coming on the practice squad.
For the offensive line, though, things are mighty unsettled after the settled-in starting five. You have to figure Germain Ifedi, who has extensive experience at right tackle and right guard and spent the whole 2022 season backing up Kaleb McGary, has an inside track to a spot. Ditto Matt Hennessy, who the team groomed as a guard and has both some positional versatility and starting experience at center, though I’m not quite as confident he’s a lock as I am with Ifedi.
Beyond that, it depends on what the Falcons value. Do they still like Mayfield’s upside and believe he can be a quality guard or tackle in this league? Do they roll with Greenidge, who has played pretty much every position along the offensive line? Do they bet on the towering Miles unlocking his potential as a swing tackle in Atlanta? Could rookie Gwyn grab ahold of a reserve center/guard role, or does that belong to Ryan Neuzil, who has spent the past two seasons with Atlanta on the practice squad?
These are important questions for this team to answer given how costly it can be to suffer from poor offensive line depth if and when injuries hit, especially with a second-year quarterback under center. Right now, I expect them to go slim on the actual roster with a swing tackle (Ifedi), a guard/tackle they want to develop (Mayfield), and interior depth (Hennessy), carrying several developmental options on the practice squad in case they’re needed.
Projection: Swing tackle Germain Ifedi, T/G Jalen Mayfield, C/G Matt Hennessy
Practice squad (4): Justin Shaffer, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn, Ethan Greenidge
Who do you have emerging from these competitions to make the roster or practice squad?