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Evaluating Falcons roster locks and strong bets with preseason over

Who is set to make this roster and who has a very good chance, based on training camp and preseason action?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Falcons have put preseason to bed, and they did so in a fashion that put us to sleep, losing 24-0 to the Steelers. Setting aside questions of playing or not playing starters and some truly abysmal performances from players who may not make the roster, I think we have a pretty clear picture of how the initial 53 man will shape up.

This is one man’s opinion regarding who the roster locks are and who should be considered strong bets to make the team. I have 53 names here, but in all likelihood one won’t be kept in favor of a fifth wide receiver. I think given the team’s roster-building tendencies, preseason performances, and 2022 showings, this will end up being pretty close when the dust settles by next Tuesday.

Here’s mine, and I’d be keen to see yours.

Roster locks (44)

QB (2): Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke

RB (3): Bijan Robinson, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson

WR (4): Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge

TE (4): Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt

OL (6): Jake Matthews, Matthew Bergeron, Drew Dalman, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Ryan Neuzil

DL (6): Grady Jarrett, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Ta’Quon Graham, Zach Harrison, Timothy Horne

ILB (4): Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen, Nate Landman, Tae Davis

OLB (4): Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone

CB (5): A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Tre Flowers, Clark Phillips, Dee Alford

S (3): Jessie Bates, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins

K (1): Younghoe Koo

P (1): Bradley Pinion

LS (1): Liam McCullough

You could argue with me about a few of these players and I’d see your point, but I still consider them locks.

Hodge is a vital special teamer the staff clearly loves, and his limited playing time (and injury) this preseason shouldn’t cause you to sour on his chances of making it. Ditto Neuzil, who is currently one of the only players on the roster capable of playing center behind Drew Dalman (the other is veteran Jonatthon Harrison). Horne is the team’s nose tackle, at least until/unless the Falcons add to the position post-cuts. Landman and Davis consistently ran as the third and fourth inside linebackers and the team needs their special teams ability and useful play on defense enough that I’m comfortable considering them locks.

There have been some questions about Parker Hesse, who played a ton, and DeAngelo Malone. I can’t fully explain why both played as much as they did—you can extend this to Ta’Quon Graham—but Hesse is a vital blocker the team has heaped praise on, Malone an extremely worthy young pass rusher with intriguing upside, and Graham one of the team’s better young defensive lineman. I have a very hard time believing that any of the trio won’t make this roster.

Strong bets (11)

QB (1): Logan Woodside

RB (1): Godwin Igwebuike

FB (1): Keith Smith

TE (1): John FitzPatrick

OL (2): Kyle Hinton, Josh Miles

DL (2): Joe Gaziano, Albert Huggins

CB (1): Mike Hughes

S (2): Micah Abernathy, DeMarcco Hellams

These players feel like solid bets for a roster spot, and everywhere I’ve listed two players it’s a virtual lock that one of them will be added. There just isn't room for everyone on this list to actually make it.

Woodside has been impressive for a third-string quarterback working with third-string receiving options, showing enough athleticism and quality decision-making to stick if the team keeps three quarterbacks. The extended action and strong work for him suggests to me that they will, especially with emergency third quarterback and tight end Feleipe Franks on the shelf for the year.

Igwebuike has simply been a really good special teamer and a dynamic runner, and given that the Falcons loved Avery Williams in that role a year ago, he should stick.

Smith has been a vital special teams cog and solid enough blocker at fullback all this time; the only way he loses out is if the Falcons elect to use Parker Hesse and others as a fullback and keep a fifth tight end.

FitzPatrick is running behind the quartet listed above, with Pruitt seemingly locked in given his lack of playing time. If the Falcons don’t keep Smith I could see them keeping FitzPatrick, who has upside as a receiving option and blocker, and I do think they want to hold on to him. We’ll see if they can shuffle the deck and make room for him; he’s probably the weakest “strong bet” on this list.

Hinton was pulled early enough to think he has an inside track to a role, and he looked good enough at guard to justify a spot on this roster. Miles is here because he was the best of some very shaky tackle options last night and really over the course of the preseason, but he may not last long on the roster.

Gaziano impressed me again last night and should have an inside track to a roster spot, given that the Falcons could use a little more depth with older players like David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Grady Jarrett set to start. That might also spark them to keep Huggins, who has been more uneven over the past two weeks but is a solid player who overlapped with Ryan Nielsen in New Orleans in both 2021 and 2022.

Hughes didn’t play but has to be a good bet for the roster, one would think, given that he can play multiple positions, was running with starts and top reserves throughout camp, and can handle returner duties if called upon.

Finally, we’re not sure whether Abernathy, Hellams or both will make the roster, but both should be considered strong bets to do so. Hellams has simply been an impressive, reliable defender who played lights out considering his draft status and expectations through all three preseason games, and we know from his college days that he’s a willing and capable special teamer. Abernathy played pretty well at safety, too, and put forth typically good special teams work in his own right.

The team will also pull a fifth receiver from the many options who showed well over the course of preseason, but it’d be hard for me to pick just one as a strong bet to make this roster. You can potentially shuffle out a Huggins or a Miles in favor of another player, but the really important note here is that you shouldn’t get too attached to that final 53 man roster, as the Falcons seem very likely to do their own shuffling and add outside options for anywhere from 1-5 spots.

Who do you have as roster locks and strong bets?