clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Updated Falcons roster battle breakdowns on offense after preseason Week 2

Atlanta had a chance to get a closer look at their offense Friday night, which made it clear one starting job is truly settled while depth questions linger.

NFL: Preseason-Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons’ offense is a budding juggernaut, or so we hope, but that doesn’t mean it’s a completely finished product.

We saw evidence of that in the penalties and misfires for the starters, and certainly the up-and-down performances from the reserves. There’s stuff to work on and there are position battles still not completely decided, including some serious lingering questions about who wins deep receiver roles and who is going to back up the starters along the offensive line.

Here’s an updated look at those battles heading into the final preseason game.

RB4: Godwin Igwebuike keeps pushing

When Godwin Igwebuike signed, I thought he was an interesting addition owing to his speed and special teams ability, but I felt he’d have to make up a lot of ground to overtake Carlos Washington. A few weeks on, Igwebuike has done just that,

The team’s leading rusher in each of the past two weeks and a presence on kick returns, Igwebuike looks explosive and dangerous with the ball in his hands, high praise for a player vying for a deep reserve role. His special teams value should have him active on gameday, but it’s the speed and effort that will help him find a small role on offense if he is, in the same way Avery Williams carved out a couple of touches per game last year.

Carlos Washington is likely headed for the practice squad after turning in a fine summer, and I like his long-term value for this team as a pass-catching, bruising back who can take on a deep reserve role. If the Falcons keep four backs, it would be a huge surprise not to see Igwebuike grab the role, given that he’s impressed us so much through two preseason games.

WR5/6: Battle tightens heading into final preseason game

Xavier Malone has been pretty good all summer and turned in another quality effort against the Bengals, with a missed opportunity at a touchdown being the only blemish on his day. That said, he’s not exactly running away with this role, even so.

I said Malone would be in the driver’s seat unless Josh Ali, Penny Hart, and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside impressed, and two out of the three did. Hart has a special teams role to play and may still make this roster on the back of that, but unfortunately he was injured in the last game and may or may not be good to go before roster cutdowns. Ali and Arcega-Whiteside, meanwhile, each had impressive days as receiving options, with Ali working effectively over the middle and Arcega-Whiteside making one of the grabs of the game down the sideline just shy of a touchdown.

I don’t consider this battle settled just yet, and playing time and performances in the game against Pittsburgh Thursday night will have to be the final word. If the team only keeps five receivers I think they’ll prioritize the special teams value that Hart or Malone seem capable of providing, but if they keep six I’d bet on Ali joining the squad as well.

LG: Bergeron has the job

He won by default with Matt Hennessy hitting injured reserve, but in a fair fight Bergeron would’ve stood a good chance of snagging the job anyways.

The 2023 second round pick is already making his presence felt as a run blocker, where he’s advanced and quite nasty, and has held up pretty well in pass protection in the very limited look we’ve gotten. Bergeron will have his rookie year hiccups, but he’s going to be counted upon to be a long-term building block for this offensive line, and I like his chances of holding his own throughout the 2023 season.

Reserve offensive line: Neuzil and ???

Ryan Neuzil has a job sewn up. With Matt Hennessy on injured reserve, Ethan Greenidge having hit IR a long time ago, and only Kyle Hinton coming close to distinguishing himself on the interior, the man who seems to be capable of playing guard and center at a solid level is locked in to a spot. That wasn’t a guarantee at the beginning of the summer, but injuries and Neuzil’s own work have ensured it will happen.

That’s six spots locked in, but beyond that things get iffy in a hurry. Jalen Mayfield was a bit of a disaster at left tackle against the Bengals, and while the team may think he can grow into a swing tackle role for the season ahead, having to rely on him early on if it came to that would be a risky proposition. His competition is Josh Miles and Tyler Vrabel, who haven’t been considerably better but at least have been solid at times. It doesn’t feel as though the Falcons have a proven swing tackle option anywhere on the roster, raising the specter of an outside acquisition after cutdowns.

We haven’t seen a ton of high-end work in preseason from the other options deeper down the depth chart, including XFL import Barry Wesley, second year guard Justin Shaffer, and rookie Jovaughn Gwyn. Kyle Hinton, who has quietly been solid-to-good through two games thus far and can play guard, may wind up being the eighth offensive lineman out of the gate.

It’s possible that Mayfield settles in, Hinton turns out to be a great depth piece, and Neuzil’s three years of work in this system really pay off. I’d love for that to be the case, but at the moment, the team’s offensive line depth feels like one of the few things that could derail this offense.

What are your takes on these battles?