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Rapid reactions to the initial Falcons 53 man roster

It’s an exciting time to be a Falcons fan, but the roster work isn’t over for Atlanta.

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

The roster is here, and we’ve had a few hours to consider the moves the Falcons made to get here.

I’m not promising that three cups of coffee and a half hour of sunshine have given me the coherence to give you worthwhile reactions to the roster, but I’m going to do my level best and let you weigh in with yours. Let’s talk roster, from the noticeable strengths to the soon-to-be-fixed (we hope) weaknesses.

Strength of the starting lineup stands out

There are enough question marks on both sides of the ball that strength probably seems like hyperbole, but consider where the Falcons were over the last few years. Having a rotation along the defensive line that’s filled with quality players, a top-shelf secondary, and a pair of tremendous athletes at inside linebacker is far better than what Atlanta boasted on defense from 2019-2022. Offensively, we need to see how all the pieces fit together and how Desmond Ridder fares, but there are playmakers aplenty to work with here, and the floor of the offense seems to be quality and fun.

Depth is an issue in spots—more on that in a moment—but this is easily the best starting lineup the Falcons have put on the field in a few years. It should translate to more wins, finally.

Depth at multiple positions is worrisome

Wide receiver is a potential trouble spot if a single player is hurt, but I do expect the Falcons to stock their practice squad with multiple useful options to at least cushion the blow there. The problem is that they only have one true high-end option at the position to begin with in Drake London, so the margin for a player to get hurt or just not perform well is razor thin to start the season.

Ditto along the offensive line, where there isn’t a single proven option. Josh Miles was the best of some shaky options for swing tackle, but he has zero NFL starts and has appeared in just 17 games over four seasons in the league. Ryan Neuzil, Kyle Hinton, and Jovaughn Gwyn have 11 regular season games, 79 snaps, and zero starts combined between them, with nine of those games belonging to Neuzil. It’s not that some of those players can’t be good; it’s that we have no idea whether they are or not, and a would-be contender with such inexperienced depth in such a critical position group wouldn’t seem to be in a great spot.

Ditto outside linebacker, where the group is just four players deep even if Calais Campbell and Kaden Elliss may mix in with them, and inside linebacker, where Tae Davis and Nate Landman have very little experience on defense themselves. DeAngelo Malone, Davis, and Landman are all going to be terrific special teamers, but an injury would open up significant playing time for them on defense, and with the possible exception of Malone that would worry me a great deal.

The good news is that the Falcons are unlikely to stand pat, as we’ll discuss below.

Parker Hesse and Timothy Horne loom as sole surprise cuts

It’s a little surprising that Josh Ali made the roster, and it’s very surprising that Jovaughn Gwyn and Kyle Hinton both did. Overall, though, there weren’t a ton of shocking moves as the Falcons filled this thing out.

Two cuts qualify, though. The first is Horne, a player who stepped up in a big way last year when the Falcons’ line was decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness, delivering solid play as a fixture on the interior. Horne wasn’t great, but he was better than I might have expected, and he ran with starters and backups throughout camp. There is every indication that the Falcons intend to sneak him onto the practice squad if they’re able to, but it was surprising to see them lose a quality young nose tackle when that position has been such a bear for them to fill and keep filled. Joe Gaziano and Albert Huggins, meanwhile, both stuck on the initial roster.

Hesse is a bigger surprise. He played so much this summer in preseason that some observers with clear eyes wondered if he might be on the bubble, but Arthur Smith’s constant praise for Hesse’s work as a blocker and his seeming invulnerability since joining the roster made me think it couldn’t possibly be the case that he might lose his role. That is the case, though, with the team electing to roll with Desmond Ridder favorite MyCole Pruitt and second-year pro John FitzPatrick on the roster while leaving Hesse off.

FitzPatrick has the upside to be both a quality blocking option and perhaps more useful as a receiver than Hesse, and his youth combined with that makes him a logical player to keep. I just would be shocked if Hesse is gone entirely, given the caliber of work he did to pave the way for runners in 2022 in particular.

Change is a given

The Falcons are tinkerers, and this front office likes to see what’s out there. That’s why you see plenty of churn all spring, summer, fall, and winter, in the service of finding that one player like an Anthony Rush (2021) or Cornell Armstrong (2022) who might be able to contribute when the team badly needs it. That’s just to say this: The bottom of this roster isn’t settled.

Chances are the Falcons won’t have three interior offensive linemen on this roster come Week 1, with either Kyle Hinton or Jovaughn Gwyn making way for an addition. There’s a solid chance that Josh Miles, the man who is left standing in the swing tackle battle after nearly every other option immolated on the field, either will be heading to the practice squad or joined by a more seasoned option. And there’s little chance that the Falcons will go into the year with so little depth at both outside and inside linebacker, to say nothing of a cornerback group where two top options seem likely to miss Week 1.

If you liked this roster, in other words, brace for change. If you were worried about depth, take heart: The Falcons are going to do something about that, even if I can’t guarantee you’ll love it.