Frankly, every Falcon is going to be worth watching, but here are six I’ll be keeping an especially close eye on tonight.
QB Desmond Ridder
We won’t see much of Ridder, in all likelihood, so each snap we do see will feel weightier. That’s especially true because I’m not certain he’ll play in the preseason finale against Pittsburgh, making this potentially our lasting look at him before the regular season.
I don’t need to see—and am not expecting—Ridder to light the world on fire in the brief glimpse we do get. What I would like to see is sharp play early on, something we didn’t see in last season’s four game audition for a player who can tend to start slow, and the kind of command of the offense that we know Ridder is capable of and that Arthur Smith loves to talk about. If he can connect on a deep ball or two to the likes of Kyle Pitts and Drake London, so much the better, but Ridder will be worth watching because he’s the starter of the moment, the presumptive starter of the future, and a player who is keen to show us how much he has improved since 2022.
It’s all about Ridder just showing us he’s comfortable and ready to rock and roll with an offense chock full of talent, in other words, something I’m eager to see and expect to see.
RB Carlos Washington Jr.
Godwin Igwebuike had the better day on the ground, and I think a fair number of fans have already penciled him in as the fourth running back. That’s not unfair; Igwebuike’s history as a returner and on coverage units make him someone the Falcons would like to have around on special teams, and he looked terrific against the Dolphins.
Especially with a little shade of doubt as to Cordarrelle Patterson’s availability to start the season, I think there’s still daylight for Washington to seize a roster spot or make a strong case to stick around on the practice squad. Washington was impressive early on in camp, was utilized more heavily than Igwebuike as a receiver and blocker, and has the requisite power as a runner to thrive in this offense if given a chance. I’ll be watching to see if Washington can build on that first game and make that push to land a role here, and I believe he’ll deliver at least enough to be a call away on the practice squad.
WR Xavier Malone
Every year there is at least one wide receiver who impresses and doesn’t make the roster. I’m hopeful that player won’t be Malone.
Extremely speedy and a potentially dangerous deep threat, Malone has been mixing in to the returner battles at practice and led the Falcons in receiving against the Dolphins, making a pair of nice catches that showcased both his speed and his ruggedness. The Falcons are lacking that kind of game-changing speed in their receiving corps today, so Malone sticking around as WR5 and at least a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at punt returner would be great to see. If he builds on that impressive first preseason game by shining against the Bengals. I think he has a real shot, and I’ll be watching to see if he can do just that.
OL Ryan Neuzil
The battle for swing tackle is in some ways more compelling and competitive than who sticks around as the team’s top reserve at center and guard, but it’s difficult to choose just one player from that group to keep an eye on unless you’ve been stumping hard for Jalen Mayfield these past three years.
Neuzil has been pushing the boulder up the hill the past two summers, showing well in practice and preseason action and even cross-training at center in an attempt to make the roster, but this is the first time it may immediately pay off. With Matt Hennessy out for the year and Neuzil suddenly looking like the most compelling in-house option on the interior owing to his nastiness and versatility, continued quality play won’t just land him a spot on the 53. It will help him keep that spot after roster cutdowns, when it may be otherwise tempting for the Falcons to scoop up a familiar face like Colby Gossett or at least a more seasoned center behind Drew Dalman.
LB Tae Davis
The operating assumption for reporters and observers of practice seems to be that Nate Landman is pretty well locked in as the third linebacker, at least on the initial 53 man roster. That leaves at least one spot open, and Davis is still my pick to take the job.
To do so, it will help if Davis can show well on defense, as he has far less to prove on special teams after consistently showing himself to be an asset there for the Giants and Browns. With talented but relatively unproven starting options in Troy Andersen and Kaden Elliss, the Falcons will want depth they can rely on in a pinch, and Davis has played very little on defense since his rookie season in New York. He’s talented enough to hold off new signing Frank Ginda. As I said for Neuzil and as can easily be said for Landman, though, impressing now will help prevent the Falcons from supplanting him after cutdowns with a fresh signing.
S DeMarcco Hellams
Hellams is just a fun player to watch, period, as a safety who delivers some skeleton-rattling hits and takes advantage of his big play opportunities. That eye-opening performance against the Dolphins puts him on a path to win the fourth safety job, though, and I’ll be watching to see how he follows it up against the Bengals.
Hellams checks a lot of boxes for the Falcons, given that he played multiple positions in college and is a willing and able special teamer. I think he can essentially sew up his roster spot with one more good game between now and cutdowns—you can argue he already has—so keeping a close eye on a player who led the team in tackles last week seems both wise and rewarding.
Who will you be keeping your eye on tonight?