The Falcons may not be truly deep on defense, but they’re closer to having genuine depth than they have been in many years. An influx of talent through the draft and free agency gave the team options they didn’t have in 2021 or 2022, and as you’d expect, that means a more fierce competition this summer for limited roster spots.
There are players who are firmly on the roster bubble coming into training camp who will have to shine to make this roster, and they’re names that had little trouble carving out significant roles here just a year ago. These players were either starters at one point in 2022 or at least significant players in their respective rotations, but with all the additions, they’re facing situations that are either mildly disruptive or almost guaranteed to see their roster spots lost without a tremendous August.
Here are four such players heading into training camp.
DL Timothy Horne
All Horne has done since arriving in Atlanta is exceed expectations. The former undrafted free agent became a key cog on a depleted Falcons defensive line last year, serving as a capable nose tackle for a team that otherwise was essentially without one. If he didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, he was far better pressed into that role than we had any right to expect, and it’s likely that he can be better with experience under his belt.
Unfortunately for Horne, the team sunk a lot of time and energy into improving its defensive line, which likely puts him firmly on the bubble despite his hard work. The Falcons already had Grady Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham under contract and have since added rookie Zach Harrison through the draft and a boatload of players in free agency, with David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Eddie Goldman feeling like locks. With limited spots available and competition at nose tackle—Goldman is the clubhouse leader, but the team also added veteran Carlos Davis—Horne is going to need a tremendous summer to lock up a spot.
I’d still bet on him making a push for the practice squad, however.
LB Mykal Walker
Walker’s spot likely depends entirely on how well he fares in the next month-plus, and he is the strongest bet on this list to stick around. It would not stun me if he ultimately did not make the roster; it would also not surprise me if he became a vital and versatile reserve.
After earning a starting job last year, Walker was benched down the stretch in favor of Troy Andersen, and he had a very limited role given his lack of special teams work. Andersen and Kaden Elliss would seem to be your starters at inside linebacker under a brand new defensive coordinator in Ryan Nielsen, and then the Falcons have added ex-XFLer LaCale London and a host of potential reserves with significant special teams value. That last factor could propel, say, Tae Davis and Mike Jones Jr. onto the roster over Walker if they’re impressive in training camp and preseason.
Walker’s upside and youth are likely to save him here—he’s shown flashes of being a very useful player over the past three seasons, even if that has been an uneven showing—but the presence of Nielsen and new additions at least casts some doubt on it. Walker doesn’t have strong competition on paper, but a sluggish summer could still cost him a spot.
OLB Ade Ogundeji
I don’t like Ogundeji’s chances. His chief champion, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino, was let go and replaced this past offseason. The Falcons also added Calais Campbell (who is expected to play this role at least some of the time), rookie Zach Harrison, and Bud Dupree to a rotation that already featured Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, and re-signed free agent Lorenzo Carter. That’s a crowded group, and every single one of those players likely offers more as a pass rusher than Ogundeji has through two seasons.
He is a solid run defender and may be able to stick around based on that utility, but in a suddenly crowded group and with the coaching staff that drafted and nurtured him largely gone, Ogundeji is going to have to fight very hard to make this roster unless the Falcons are keeping quite a few outside linebackers.
CB Darren Hall
Hall is in a similar situation to Walker, where a starting opportunity turned into a reserve role late in the year. Unfortunately for Hall, the competition is far more fierce at cornerback than it is at inside linebacker.
The Falcons invested heavily in the position, from a trade for Jeff Okudah to a Mike Hughes signing to drafting the promising Clark Phillips, and they already had a number of options for this roster. When you factor in the always impressive Dee Alford and Cornell Armstrong, who supplanted Hall as a starter down the stretch with injuries mounting, there’s formidable competition for Hall to deal with.
I’m still a believer in his talent, but like Ogundeji, Hall likely needs a superlative summer to hang on to a roster spot with so much competition on hand. With A.J. Terrell, Okudah, and Phillips already seemingly locked in and Hughes a strong bet, Hall has to outshine Armstrong and Alford to have a real shot.
Do you have these players making the roster or not?