By Matt Karoly
The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up the 2018 preseason with a 34-7 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. With the loss, the Falcons finished the exhibition schedule with an 0-4 record for the second consecutive year.
However, that means very little in the grand scheme of the things. The good news is Atlanta enters the regular season with a fairly clean bill of health with Blidi Wreh-Wilson’s status to be determined.
All that’s left now is to determine what players will walk into Lincoln Financial Field for the regular season opener. With that said, I present to you my one and only 53 man roster projection for the Falcons.
QB (2) – Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub
Analysis: Kurt Benkert ran more cold than hot this preseason and, as a result, finds himself on the outside looking in. But with the quarterback landscape what it is right now in the NFL, we shouldn’t have to worry about him being poached off the Falcons’ practice squad.
The hope is he develops some seasoning in the Plan D program in 2018 and takes over for Matt Schaub as the QB2 next year.
RB (3) – Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman, Ito Smith
Analysis: In all honesty, Ito Smith might not even be active on game days unless he earns the kick return job, so stashing a fourth running back on the roster makes little sense. Look for Malik Williams to land on the practice squad though.
FB (1) – Ricky Ortiz
Analysis: Ortiz wins this race from start-to-finish as he showed promise as both a blocker and a receiver this preseason. The powers that be have had an eye on the former Oregon State Beaver for some time now and he’ll get the chance to show why this season.
TE (3) – Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert
Analysis: Not a whole lot more to add here. Much like the running back situation, these three were pretty locked in from the get-go and none of the other options on the depth chart stood out.
WR (6) – Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall, Russell Gage
Analysis: The only real question with the receivers is who will be active on game day and who is the odd man out? My gut says Gage will be active because he was drafted to be the starting gunner on the punt coverage team (#specialteamsmatter) and he displayed a skill set as a route runner that would suggest he wouldn’t be a liability on offense if pressed into action.
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OL (10) – Jake Matthews, Andy Levitre, Alex Mack, Brandon Fusco, Ryan Schraeder, Ben Garland, Ty Sambrailo, Wes Schweitzer, Matt Gono, Sean Harlow
Analysis: The top eight are fairly straightforward given their previous roles on the team and how they’ve been deployed this offseason. Gono makes the team based on positional value, long-term upside, and the fact that he leapfrogged veteran Austin Pasztor on the depth chart in week two of the preseason.
By virtue of no other bubble player seizing the final spot, Harlow earns another year on the 53 man roster in the Plan D program.
DL (9) – Takk McKinley, Grady Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Vic Beasley, Brooks Reed, Jack Crawford, Deadrin Senat, Derrick Shelby, Justin Zimmer
Analysis: Like the trenches on the other side of the ball, the top eight on the defensive line have been locked in for a while. The only question mark was who would win the ninth and final spot.
Coming in to training camp, I suspected this battle would come down to Anthony Winbush vs. JT Jones as I believed the team was lighter on true edge rushers than interior/hybrid players (three compared to five) and needed to rectify that. Well, things didn’t go as planned and the DL9 competition ultimately boiled down to two more interior options — Justin Zimmer vs. Garrison Smith.
In my opinion, Zimmer holds the slight edge due to his athletic profile being exactly what the Falcons look for in their players. Atlanta opted to pass on Taven Bryan in this year’s draft, but the team may have landed a poor man’s version of Bryan in Zimmer.
LB (6) – Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, Duke Riley, Foye Oluokun, Kemal Ishmael, JT Jones
Analysis: JT Jones’s versatility to be the backup SAM linebacker as well as the fourth true edge rusher merits him this roster spot. It also helps when your uncle, Travis Jones, becomes the team’s assistant defensive line coach this year.
CB (6) – Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Brian Poole, Blidi Wreh-Wilson*, Isaiah Oliver, Justin Bethel
Analysis: The parallels on this roster are staggering the more you look into them. As was the case with receiver, the six rostered cornerbacks were very predictable at the outset of training camp.
The only debate now becomes which one will be inactive on game days. I originally thought that player would be Blidi Wreh-Wilson, but don’t be surprised if the highly touted Isaiah Oliver spends the first few games in street clothes.
Wreh-Wilson has had a great preseason and is the more reliable option at outside corner right now if the Falcons were forced to turn to their bench. Of course, all of this is contingent on Wilson’s health as he exited the final preseason game with a shoulder injury. In the event his injury is serious, Chris Lammons may receive consideration for the open roster spot.
S (4) – Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, Damontae Kazee, Ron Parker
Analysis: With preseason MVP Damontae Kazee making his presence felt this summer, the Falcons boast one of the best safety trios in all of football. Kazee’s versatility to play near the line of scrimmage as well as single-high will allow Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel the opportunity to deploy Neal and Allen in more creative ways this season.
Specialists (3) – Matt Bryant, Matt Bosher, Josh Harris
Analysis: No further analysis necessary.
As is the case every year around this time, the Falcons may be in the market to acquire a street free agent or two to round out their roster. However, with very few holes to fill, I do not see that being the case.
If there is one position to keep your eye on, though, it would be linebacker. Potential players on roster bubbles that may entice the Falcons are Nate Stupar (Saints) and Miles Killebrew (Lions).
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