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Found 12 results

  1. Come noon tomorrow, we should have at least a few names connected to the Atlanta Falcons practice squad. What should you expect? While we’ve projected individual names over the last several weeks, here’s a broader look at the kinds of positions and players the Falcons should be looking to add. Alex Gray! He’s more or less locked in as the 11th player on the practice squad, and this will be the second straight year where he’s been eligible as an international player. 2019 will be a pivotal year where he’ll actually get to compete for a roster spot, but he won’t be able to in 2018 and will continue to develop. A third quarterback. A number of teams elected to keep a third QB this year, but Kurt Benkert didn’t show enough for Atlanta to feel comfortable doing so right off the bat. Whether it’s Benkert, Garrett Grayson, or a young QB released by another team like Luke Falk, Atlanta’s going to scoop one up and have one on hand. A fourth running back. The Falcons have virtually never had a practice squad without one, and a number of interesting candidates were released by other teams. With Malik Williams hurt and Justin Crawford having a quiet summer, it might be an outside guy. A young interior offensive lineman. With Matt Gono making the roster at tackle, the Falcons are all set at that position, but they could stand to develop a young guard or center for the future. If they can keep Sean Harlow around and try to recoup some value from that investment, so much the better. A young defensive end, because Atlanta’s currently carrying just four players at the position (five if you think Justin Zimmer can play some end) and they could lose both Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby next offseason. It’s high time they started developing a young reserve who might be able to make an impact down the line. At least one defensive back, preferably a former wide receiver. Dan Quinn loves those dudes. I’m hopeful the Falcons will bring back the likes of Benkert, Jonathan Celestin, Harlow, Chris Lammons, and a few others, but as long as they lock up some good young players to develop, I’ll be fine either way. Give us your expectations for the practice squad right here.
  2. The list of reasons not to be excited about this Atlanta Falcons team is extremely short. There’s injury, some worry over the depth of the defensive end rotation, some small questions with Duke Riley and Austin Hooper, and the possibility that Steve Sarkisian won’t be up to snuff as a play caller. Otherwise, the arrow is pointing way up for the Falcons. I feel pretty spoiled—and it also feels a little surreal—to be contemplating a great Falcons team. While there are rebuilding teams and bad teams and borderline contenders who will be answering this prompt from SB Nation with whatever reasons they can scrounge up. It’s a lucky team that can answer, in all honesty, that the reason they’re excited about their favorite team is because their favorite teams looks great. The Falcons have the best quarterback they’ve had in franchise history, most would agree, plus one of their better running back tandems, wide receiver corps, offensive lines, defensive front sevens and secondaries ever. They have talent, good coaching (though I pause a little bit on that one, at times), and young players with ability ready to step in in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years. They’ve never been better positioned for success in the here and now and in the future, I’d wager, and that makes this Falcons team worth celebrating. In summary, I’m excited about the Atlanta Falcons because they’re exciting. If this isn’t one of the best Falcons teams of all-time, I will be surprised. We’ll remind you of that as often as we can here at The Falcoholic, because life is short and fragile and the Falcons rarely give us something this interesting to celebrate. I second this.
  3. Snap counts! During the season, they help to illuminate who is dominating snaps and who is limited to special teams after you’ve watched the game, and provide us an opportunity to look for trends. In preseason, they tell us who the Falcons are serious about getting an extended look at. Let’s break down this week’s snap counts for Falcons vs. Chiefs. Offense T Matt Gono: 33 G Ben Garland: 33 T Ty Sambrailo: 33 RB Ito Smith: 29 TE Eric Saubert: 27 G Jamil Douglas: 23 G Wes Schweitzer: 23 QB Matt Schaub: 23 TE Logan Paulsen: 19 WR Calvin Ridley: 19 WR Reggie Davis: 19 C J.C. Hassenauer: 19 G Sean Harlow: 19 WR Devin Gray: 18 WR Justin Hardy: 17 QB Kurt Benkert: 15 WR Russell Gage: 14 T Jake Matthews: 14 T Ryan Schraeder: 14 C Alex Mack: 14 G Brandon Fusco: 14 QB Matt Ryan: 14 FB Ricky Ortiz: 13 WR Marvin Hall: 12 WR Mohamed Sanu: 11 RB Justin Crawford: 10 TE Austin Hooper: 10 RB Tevin Coleman: 10 T Austin Pasztor: 9 G Salesi Uhatafe: 9 WR Christian Blake: 9 T/G Daniel Brunskill: 9 WR Dontez Byrd: 8 TE Jaeden Graham: 8 TE Troy Mangen: 7 WR Lamar Jordan: 5 FB Luke McNitt: 3 WR Cody Pearson: 3 RB Malik Williams: 3 RB Terrence Magee: 2 The Falcons have all but decided the fullback battle, by all appearances, which is perhaps the biggest takeaway here. Luke McNitt barely played, while Ricky Ortiz made the most of his 13 snaps, coming away with two receptions and some nice blocks. The Falcons also mixed up their offensive line quite a bit last night, giving Matt Gono a surprising number of snaps ahead of Austin Pasztor. I thought Gono played pretty well, all things considered, and he should be in line for a practice squad spot if he keeps that up. The team may not carry four tackles, but they’ll need a de facto one around if something happens to a starter. It’s also noteworthy that Marvin Hall got far fewer snaps than other receiving options Friday night, and yet still managed to post the third-highest receiving total on the night. There’s an odd reluctance in some corners of this fanbase to accept it, but I think the Falcons have more or less decided he’s on the roster. Defense S Marcelis Branch: 47 DB Secdrick Cooper: 43 LB Anthony Wimbush: 33 S/CB Chris Lammons: 33 DT Garrison Smith: 33 DE J’Terius Jones: 28 LB Jon Celestin: 27 CB: Blidi Wreh-Wilson: 27 DT Jon Cunningham: 25 DE/DT Mackendy Cheridor: 25 LB Emmanuel Smith: 24 LB Duke Riley: 24 CB Deante Burton: 24 CB Isaiah Oliver: 23 CB Leon McFadden: 23 LB Richard Jarvis: 22 LB Foye Oluokun: 22 DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: 21 DT Jordan Zimmer: 21 LB Kemal Ishmael: 19 S Ricardo Allen: 18 CB Robert Alford: 18 S Keanu Neal: 18 CB Brian Poole: 16 DT Grady Jarrett: 13 LB De’Vondre Campbell: 13 DE Derrick Shelby: 10 DE Takkarist McKinley: 10 DT Terrell McClain: 9 DE Brooks Reed: 9 DT Jack Crawford: 9 CB Desmond Trufant: 9 DE Vic Beasley: 9 DT Deadrin Senat: 8 LB Emmanuel Ellerbe: 6 S Tyson Graham: 6 CB Justin Bethel: 5 DB Ryan Neal: 4 S Damontae Kazee: 2 S Ron Parker: 1 The Falcons decided to take a long look at the likes of Wimbush, Branch, Lammons, Smith and Cooper. That was probably to give these guys a shot to prove themselves, by and large, and Lammons looked solid, Branch decent in spurts, and Smith had a couple of legitimately nice plays. I’d say that Cooper, like Graham last week, probably hurt his chances of making this roster with his performance. The Falcons are trying to figure out back ends of position groups at the moment, and a guy like Garrison Smith set himself up nicely to be the fifth defensive tackle, while Lammons is pushing hard for a practice squad spot in a crowded secondary. It’s fair to say that the deep reserves did not have a good night overall, but a small handful of players did help themselves, and I’d put those two guys at the top of it. One note: Justin Bethel barely played, and at this point it’s fair to wonder whether that’s because he’s an easy roster pick or if it’s because he might be losing ground given the special teams value shown by guys like Marvin Hall and Russell Gage. We’ll see if the Falcons address it this week, but I’d still bet the former Special Teams Richard Jarvis: 12 Isaiah Oliver: 11 Marcelis Branch: 10 Foye Oluokun: 9 Russell Gage: 9 Ricky Ortiz: 9 Matt Bosher: 8 Ito Smith: 7 Eric Saubert: 7 Emmanuel Ellerbe: 6 Damontae Kazee: 6 Ron Parker: 6 I listed everyone with five or more special teams snaps, because there were several dudes with just one or two. This tells a story in and of itself. If you’re not guaranteed a starting job, as is the case for the likes of Oluokun, Gage, and Saubert, you need to prove you belong on special teams. Oluokun is an excellent tackler, Gage an outstanding special teamer in general, and Saubert’s blocking is improved in his second year. Kazee and Parker will, of course, find plenty of time as well. Also interesting: Jarvis and Branch, who got very long looks on defense, also led the team in special teams snaps. Branch is a good athlete who hung around all last year and may be a practice squad candidate once more, while Jarvis showed himself to be a physical, (overly) enthusiastic run stopper against the Chiefs. If the Falcons liked what they saw on special teams, it can only help their chances of hanging around in some capacity for the 2018 season.
  4. You don’t expect the second day of training camp to be fruitful, news-wise, and yet there is a ton to talk about even if you set aside the (hopefully) minor injuries for Calvin Ridley and Takkarist McKinley. The second day featured De’Vondre Campbell getting work on the defensive line as a pass rusher, Wes Schweitzer getting the nod as the first-team right guard for the second straight practice, and an affirmation that Damontae Kazee is going to find his way onto the field despite the team’s overwhelming secondary depth. Let’s start with Campbell. De’Vondre’s day The Falcons have consistently talked up De’Vondre Campbell’s pass rushing ability, but they haven’t necessarily found a way to consistently allow him to rush the passer. Campbell has always been remarkably strong and physical for a linebacker, to the point where lining him up on the defensive line at times seems perfectly sensible. The Falcons tried that in practice on Saturday, giving them an extremely nasty-looking line in nickel and dime sets. If the Falcons are truly planning to get Campbell more involved as a pass rusher and get him some time on the line, they must be feeling good about Duke Riley’s ability to potentially step in next to Deion Jones. If Campbell is as good at chasing down the passer as he was at times last year, and if the Falcons actually commit to using this front at times in 2018, there are going to be a lot of offensive lines with troubling nightmares in the months to come. Schweitzer’s last stand After the Falcons inked Brandon Fusco to a multi-year deal, it seemed obvious that Wes Schweitzer was going to lose the right guard job. I still think that’s the obvious outcome, but it’s very clear that Schweitzer is not exactly going to go down without a fight. Schweitzer has been getting first team work in minicamp and training camp, and while some of that can be chalked up to him being the incumbent starter, it’s worth remembering that he held down the starting spot for 18 games last season and nearly fought his way into the lineup in 2016 as a rookie sixth rounder. While I’m sure Atlanta wouldn’t be exactly thrilled if Fusco didn’t earn the starting gig, given the money they invested in him, they’re going to give Schweitzer a long look and it’s not impossible that he wins the job. Kazee’s killer versatility There’s a long way to go yet, but Damontae Kazee is showing early in camp why he figures to be a valuable member of this secondary in 2018, despite the lack of an obvious role for him. Kazee can—and did—play safety, and he’s also a capable enough cornerback that it’s little surprise to see him getting some time there in practice. Ron Parker wasn’t signed to sit on the bench and Brian Poole should be the fourth cornerback once Isaiah Oliver gets rolling, but even if Kazee’s the de facto fourth safety and fifth cornerback, he’ll find his way onto the field thanks to injury, players needing breathers, or just Marquand Manuel’s desire to get his physicality onto the field. Watch Kazee the rest of the summer to see if he can push his way up the depth chart at either cornerback or safety, but now’s the time to start thinking of him as a super sub given that Ricardo Allen is headed for a new contract and the team is ridiculously loaded at cornerback. If he can be a great one, this team’s in great shape. Let’s see what the third day brings for us.
  5. There are some good comments there. Believe it or not, but we’re juuuust over a week away from the start of training camp. As we gear up, one of the most exciting things to watch will be the newest additions to the team, those who just joined through the draft or free agency and will be competing for roles large and small with the team this summer. With that in mind, here are eight new Falcons to keep an eye on in July, August and beyond. RB Ito Smith No matter what the team says about Smith’s fortunes and keeping the band together at running back, he’s the odds-on favorite to become the team’s #2 back in 2019. Tevin Coleman isn’t likely to come cheap once he hits free agency next year, and the Falcons aren’t exactly going to be flush with cap space next year and beyond. So it’ll be interesting to see how Smith fares early and how much of a role he can carve out in his first season. The Falcons will keep expectations and snap counts fairly low for the promising young back, but if he can show the kind of rushing and pass catching prowess he did in college, he’ll step right in for Coleman a year from now. WR Calvin Ridley Ridley’s not going to push out Mohamed Sanu this year, and it’s possible he’ll still be sharing a field with his veteran counterpart next season. But he’s the future of the receiver position, even so, and he could be a major asset as soon as this year given the level of refinement to his game. You’ll want to watch Ridley to see if he’s as ready as advertised this summer, and to see if he can carry that over to the regular season. WR Russell Gage The Falcons have tinkered with Gage at cornerback and receiver, and it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll actually wind up. The team has more advanced talent at receiver with Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis lined up there, but Justin Hardy’s contract is up a year from now and Gage has the deep speed to be a problem. At cornerback, meanwhile, the Falcons have their top three locked in but will confront a 2019 season without Brian Poole, Justin Bethel and Blidi Wreh-Wilson if none of those men re-sign. Watch to see where Gage plays, as it’ll be a sign for where he’ll end up a year from now, even if his 2018 should be limited purely to special teams. G Brandon Fusco The veteran guard has been pretty good throughout his career, and he’ll be asked to be pretty good in Atlanta as the team’s presumptive starting right guard. If he can’t create a lot of distance between himself and Wes Schweitzer this summer, however, he may wind up making Atlanta his home for only a short time. I’ll be looking to see the run blocking that is supposed to make him a significant upgrade over last season’s incumbent. DT Garrison Smith The door is open for a player like Smith, given that the Falcons have eight players locked into roster spots along the defensive line but no settled depth beyond that. If the former Seahawk can enjoy a strong summer, he could latch on as the ninth player. It’s not a very exciting role, but the Falcons will need additional depth in case injuries or poor performance strike up front. LB Foye Oluokun One of my favorite players from this draft class, Oluokun has the athleticism and smarts to be an immediate asset on special teams, and the upside to be a plus reserve for Atlanta down the line. Kemal Ishmael’s on yet another one year deal and Duke Riley has to prove he’s a long-term solution at the position, so Oluokun may carve out some real opportunity for himself earlier than later. CB Isaiah Oliver We’ve hyped up the second rounder enough, I think, but he should be pretty good immediately. The only question is how well he’ll hit the ground running, and what role he’ll be stepping into in his first season. If he performs well this summer I fully expect him to play outside opposite Desmond Trufant in nickel sets, which means a lot of playing time. S Ron Parker There’s a little bit of mystery surrounding Parker, a starting-caliber safety who Atlanta landed for cheap. He seems exceedingly unlikely to actually earn a starting spot, but he should find snaps as a reserve and special teamer right out of the gate. If he’s looking good this summer and the Falcons are willing to trot out more three safety sets, Parker could walk into a larger role. What other new additions do you have your eye on? Emphasis added.
  6. It should be a lively summer, even with most roster battles already settled. By Dave Choate Jul 13, 2018, 8:00am EDT We’re nearly to training camp. As of today, we’re just two weeks away from July 26, when the Falcons open up their summer of practices and position battles in the sweltering sun. As you know, this roster is pretty settled, with the team returning something along the lines of 19 out of 22 starters from the 2017 squad. That doesn’t mean that the remaining battles for starting jobs will be boring, or that players bitterly fighting (not literally) for roster spots won’t provide some intrigue. With that in mind, here are 14 battles to keep an eye on when camp does finally, mercifully open up. Matt Schaub vs. Kurt Benkert Schaub’s the heavy favorite here, but the Falcons may actually have something in Benkert, a project with a great arm and flashes of legitimately brilliant play in college. If Benkert picks things up quickly, there’s a small but non-zero chance he could knock off Schaub, and even those slim odds bear watching. Luke McNitt vs. Daniel Marx vs. Ricky Ortiz It’s a three man battle for the fullback position, featuring two undrafted free agents and a former undrafted free agent. All three are young players, and while McNitt’s my early pick, it’s the only legitimately wide open battle on this list. While fullbacks should have a relatively small role in this Falcons offense, adding another capable blocker to the ground game is key, and this one might go down to the roster cutting wire. Calvin Ridley vs. Mohamed Sanu Who is the true #2 in 2018? Sanu would seem the favorite, given his reliability and mastery of the offense in 2016 and 2017, but Ridley has sky-high potential and comes into the league as a very polished prospect. Both will get a ton of playing time and both will line up opposite Julio Jones at time, but Ridley has an opportunity to be the #2 in more than name if he can make a strong early push. Marvin Hall vs. Russell Gage vs. Reggie Davis and so on It’s very possible that the Falcons will only have one roster spot behind Julio Jones, Ridley, Sanu and Justin Hardy. If that’s the case, it’s going to be a free-for-all between all the young, interesting players the Falcons have assembled at the receiver position. Hall showed some promise a year ago, Davis shone in preseason 2017 (despite a couple of errors), and Gage was drafted this year with early special teams value very much in mind. Gage is the favorite as a recent, talked-up draft selection, but Hall and Davis aren’t going to go quietly, and one of them should make the roster outright if the Falcons elect to keep six receivers. Eric Saubert vs. Logan Paulsen Can Saubert block well? If the answer to that question is yes, after a 2017 where he received few opportunities to show anything, he might bump Paulsen down to the nominal third tight end. Saubert has loads of promise, and it would be very nice to see the Falcons trot out two tight ends who can actually consistently catch the football. It’ll all come down to how much improvement Saubert shows in his second summer. Ty Sambrailo vs. Austin Pasztor vs. Matt Gono Swing tackle matters. Keeping your starting tackles healthy for a full 16 game slate is no easy task, regardless of how durable Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder have been in the past, and Atlanta has been way too content to trot out the likes of Jeremy Trueblood in years past. Sambrailo was merely whelming in the role a year ago and should receive a legitimate challenge from a now-healthy Pasztor and intriguing UDFA Gono for the gig. Brandon Fusco vs. Wes Schweitzer The Falcons aren’t simply going to hand Fusco the job, though he’s the easy favorite to win right guard duties. Schweitzer did start 18 games a year ago with (again) whelming play and some quality stretches, and it’s conceivable that he could push hard for the gig again after doing so in 2016 and winning it outright in 2017. The Falcons are going to have a very capable veteran backup at the position, no matter who wins. Sean Harlow vs. roster limits We named Harlow as a player to watch in training camp for a couple of reasons. He has athleticism and drew enough interest from Atlanta to become their 2017 fourth round selection, for one thing, and he’s a legitimate candidate to get cut, for another. The Falcons have plenty of capable options on the interior of the offensive line, and Harlow will need to shine to hang on and hopefully make a push for a real role in 2019. Jack Crawford vs. Terrell McClain vs. Deadrin Senat The Falcons will rotate heavily at defensive tackle, but the nominal starter next to Grady Jarrett has not been decided yet. Crawford’s returning from an injury but offers some pass rushing chops, McClain has a track record as an early down asset, and Senat looks like he could become at least a solid starter in the NFL in relatively short order with his strength and history of collegiate production. It’ll be interesting to see if Senat can seize the job outright from his veteran colleagues, even if he’ll cede plenty of snaps to them along the way. J’Terius Jones vs. Garrison Smith The Falcons seem likely to carry nine defensive linemen, given their proclivity for rotation and how tight a four man rotation at defensive end and defensive tackle feels. What we don’t know is whether that player is going to be chiefly a DE (and here I’m thinking of Jones) or a DT (and here I’m thinking of Smith). There are other players in the mix here, but Smith’s a veteran with some upside and Jones stuck all last year after an impressive summer, and one of them seems likely to emerge as that ninth player. Blidi Wreh-Wilson vs. Justin Bethel and roster limits Wreh-Wilson was an asset in limited opportunities in 2017, but now the depth chart at corner is ridiculously deep. He’ll likely need to beat out Bethel, a special teams ace, or play so well that the Falcons seriously consider carrying six cornerbacks (plus Damontae Kazee, a nominal safety who can play some corner as well). It’s a tall order. Damontae Kazee vs. Ron Parker If you want to put three safeties on the field, are you throwing Kazee or Parker out there first? It may prove to be a moot question, with the Falcons electing to use both in turn, but it seems likelier that one player will emerge if Dan Quinn and Marquand Manuel want to tinker with some interesting defensive sets. Kazee flashed real physicality in 2017 and he has some legitimate coverage chops as a part-time cornerback, but Parker has been an average-to-above average starting safety for a while now, with a somewhat disappointing 2017 depressing his market value to the point where Atlanta was able to sign him on the cheap. I like Parker’s chances, but man is this group of defensive backs strong. Isaiah Oliver vs. Brian Poole Another battle that is a battle in name only, but still bears watching. Poole has been one of the team’s most effective blitzing defensive backs and a wonderfully physical corner over the past two seasons, and as good as Oliver promises to be early, the veteran isn’t simply going to roll over and cede the job. It’s possible, though not probable, that Poole fends Oliver off and the rookie comes off the bench early on. The field of potential returners vs. themselves There are too many players to list here who could be in the mix, but they include Hall, Davis, Gage, Justin Hardy, Oliver, and maybe even Parker. The fact that the Falcons haven’t chained themselves to a veteran option here means a surprising choice could emerge, and that player will ultimately likely be the fifth or sixth option at either wide receiver or cornerback. It truly seems wide open at the moment. What other battles will you be watching?
  7. In allowing Adrian Clayborn and Courtney Upshaw to walk this offseason, the Falcons signaled that they were ready to turn the keys over to Takk McKinley and Vic Beasley full-time at defensive end. The team has made its living rotating heavily in recent years, but with a slimmed-down rotation in the making and Clayborn in New England, there’s little question the pressure to produce falls on the team’s young stars. That’s why the big question with defensive end doesn’t have much to do with depth, and everything to do with whether Takk McKinley is going to prove to be every bit the breakout candidate he’s being identified as this offseason. For the record, I believe he will. Takk is big, powerful and fast, and he’s going to start the season doubling his early 2017 snap counts (at least), so the opportunity will be there. As long as he has a good offseason and is healthy, I’d expect him to challenge for the team lead in sacks and make more than a few tackles look foolish along the way. If Beasley also does well, this will be one of the league’s premier duos. But of course, there are no guarantees, and the Falcons don’t have a particularly compelling Plan B if Takk isn’t a monster. If Takk doesn’t take the huge step forward everyone seems to be anticipating, the Falcons are almost certainly going to struggle to generate a ton of pressure off the edge. Vic Beasley is a bounceback candidate in his own right, but Brooks Reed is more solid than anything else as a pass rusher, Derrick Shelby is more of a run stopper, and nobody beyond that quartet is particularly proven. It’s fair to say the team has a lot of eggs in Takk’s basket, and they’d need a fortunate roster cut from another team or an unexpected boost from a player like J’Terius Jones to mitigate that. Fortunately, again, Takk has the talent and opportunity to put it all together and make this question look very silly in short order. One of the nice things about this year’s Falcons is that most of the questions seem likely to be answered in a positive way than any year in recent memory, and we’ll hope that Takk is every bit the star the Falcons need him to be.
  8. With minicamp wrapping up and a few players standing out extremely early, I got to thinking about one of my favorite topics: Breakout players. It’s not one of my favorite topics because I typically get my selections right, but because on a roster this talented, it’s difficult to come up with just a handful of choices who legitimately qualify as breakout players. You could say that Grady Jarrett or Keanu Neal is set to break out, I guess, but they’re already borderline stars and don’t have that far to go to get here. Here’s four players on my list for 2018. Austin Hooper Depending on your appetite for risky predictions, you could even toss Eric Saubert’s name in the hat here, given that he’s looked great in camp and should be able to leapfrog Logan Paulsen for snaps if he shows himself to be a capable blocker this spring and summer. But if we’re being honest, Hooper’s the obvious candidate here. He didn’t quite break out last year, putting together a solid second season that was marked by a handful of mistakes that followed him around all year. He’s about as quick and well-rounded a starting tight end as the Falcons have had since Tony Gonzalez—not that he’s in the same league as a player—and now Hooper just needs to put the pieces together and make more of his opportunities. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the kind of season I predicted for him a year ago (approaching double digit touchdowns, 600-800 yards) a season later. De’Vondre Campbell The timing is right for Campbell, who is heading into his third NFL season and has shown remarkable growth already in his short NFL career. The Falcons took Campbell “early” because they believed in his ability and appeared to believe the many knocks on his awareness were fixable or overblown, and Campbell rewarded them by becoming a very good linebacker in his second season. Deion Jones is already a star, but Campbell still hasn’t hit his ceiling and could form a lethal tandem with Debo this year if he’s gotten even a little bit better. Isaiah Oliver Oliver’s only a rookie, but I think he can legitimately leap onto the scene. Calvin Ridley has that kind of talent, too, but he’s in a passing attack loaded with weapons and it’s not clear how much playing time (and how many targets) he’s going to get initially. Oliver, meanwhile, should play a ton with the Falcons being so fond of nickel sets. As a rangy, plus athlete (you’re sensing a theme, here) with ball skills who should see most of his snaps outside, Oliver will be challenged by legitimately talented receivers right away, but he’s good enough to give them ****. If he can hold his own in coverage and make plays on the ball, he’ll turn some heads early. Takkarist McKinley This choice is too obvious, but I’m not one to ignore the obvious. Takk turned in a six sack rookie season that was notable for how good he looked in the second half of the season and into the playoffs, and he’s so fast and powerful I’d be surprised if he didn’t build on that rookie season. On a quietly strong defensive line and with several weak tackles on the schedule, don’t be shocked if Takk pushes for double digit sacks, and he’s already very good against the run. Who would be your breakout picks?
  9. Here’s what we learned from the Atlanta Falcons three day minicamp A few items to remember as we look ahead to training camp. By Dave Choate Jun 15, 2018, 8:00am EDT Mandatory minicamp is over, and we’re back in the desert between spring practices and training camp. All we can do is look ahead, but before we do that, let’s take a look at a few things we learned from minicamp here in June. Calvin Ridley is progressing well With Julio Jones running furiously through sand dunes while Terrell Owens encourages him, Ridley was the most exciting receiver at minicamp. He had a couple of drops in practices, something that we’ll hope doesn’t persist into the season, but he impressed just about everyone and seems to be a quick study. I’m not quite sure how many opportunities the rookie’s going to get in 2018, but the fact that he’s arriving in the NFL as a refined router runner and is already noticing the work he has ahead to get better bodes well. Isaiah Oliver is playing outside We all saw this coming, right? Oliver’s not a lock to be on the field a ton when the Falcons are playing a true 4-3 front, as Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford are the unquestioned starters. When the team is in its “base” nickel set, however, Oliver will be outside opposite either Tru or Alford, with one of those two kicking inside. That’s a potentially formidable trio, and Oliver has enough talent to be an asset immediately for Atlanta. Wes Schweitzer isn’t out just yet The assumption is that Brandon Fusco is going to start at right guard this year. The Falcons made him more or less the crown jewel of their free agency crop, as sad as that sentence is, and he’s a solid veteran with real run blocking chops. I still think that’s a safe assumption. It’s likely the Falcons will treat right guard as at least a nominal competition this summer, though. Schweitzer did start every game a year ago, and while he had his brutal moments along the way, he was a solid enough player who will make a fine reserve. The Falcons will give him a legitimate chance to overtake Fusco, and while I doubt he’ll get it done, Atlanta’s going to be in solid shape at guard this year if injury strikes with Schweitzer and Ben Garland available. Keep an eye on Eric Saubert Austin Hooper is the starter and Logan Paulsen will be the muscle when the ground game needs another blocker, but Saubert’s still a deeply intriguing player. The raw Drake product spent most of his rookie season either on the bench or on special teams, but with the pads off he showed that impressive pass catching ability and athleticism that made him an interesting project in the first place. Saubert will have to do it all summer and once the pads go on, but the talent is certainly there, and he may well push his way past Paulsen for snaps this year. It’d be nice if the Falcons had two legitimate pass catching threats at the position for a change.
  10. The Falcoholic’s post-draft 2018 review: Cornerback One of the most loaded positions on the entire roster looks even better after the draft. By Dave Choate May 29, 201 Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images The Atlanta Falcons are a team with some historically great cornerbacks, from Rolland Lawrence to Deion Sanders to Brent Grimes. I don’t know if you can make a serious argument that they’ve ever been more talented at the position than they are today, however. Atlanta invested a second round selection at cornerback, and while it’ll be tough to keep their top four cornerbacks together over the long haul, they have perhaps the best depth chart in the NFL this season from #1 to #4. Let’s take a closer look at a position for strength for our favorite football team heading into the year. Desmond Trufant From the moment he was drafted until now, few players on the roster have endured more doubt. It almost seems like people are waiting for Trufant to fail, at times. While Trufant’s post-injury 2017 did feature some poor stretches of play, he was still a quality starter, and he clocked in second on the team in interceptions, managed 12 pass deflections, got a sack, and even scored a defensive touchdown. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s one of the league’s savviest cover corners and a man who makes life exceedingly difficult for #1 receivers. With Atlanta’s addition of Isaiah Oliver in the second round, it’s possible that we may see Trufant move around to shadow receivers instead of (mostly) playing his side, and I expect he’ll have another quality season. Robert Alford Alford was arguably even better than Trufant a year ago. Penalties will always be a frustrating part of his game, but Alford’s a sure tackler, an aggressive and talented option in coverage, and a guy you can count on to get his hands on the ball. He only had one pick a year ago after managing at least two in every preceding season, but Alford also collected a career-high 20 pass deflections and was, in a word, excellent. With Isaiah Oliver joining up, he may get more time in the slot this year, but he’ll be great no matter where he lines up. Just expect a couple of penalties and some bellyaching. Isaiah Oliver The rookie is an unknown, but a danged promising one. Oliver has the length Dan Quinn covets, displayed fine ball skills and coverage ability during his career at Colorado, and figures to be ready to step into a major role right away. He’ll be the team’s nominal #3 cornerback, likely lining up outside opposite Desmond Trufant (or maybe Alford) when the team is in a nickel formation and otherwise ceding to the team’s top two cornerbacks. He has legitimate upside and should be the team’s long-term #2, but at the very least he’ll be a coverage upgrade over Brian Poole this year. Speaking of which... Brian Poole Poole is an absurdly good #4 cornerback. He’s one of the league’s premier blitzing cornerbacks and an excellent tackler, with the kind of physicality that suggests he may someday have a bright future at safety. For the moment, though, Poole will move from #3 to #4, meaning he’ll be the team’s top reserve much of the time. Given his ability as a blitzer and in run support, he’ll likely get plenty of playing time. Remaining Cornerbacks Blidi Wreh-Wilson hasn’t been great throughout his entire career, but he was very good when he got on the field for Atlanta a year ago, and he figures to have an inside track for a job if the Falcons keep six cornerbacks. Justin Bethel isn’t great in coverage, but is absurdly fast and has starting experience, and he’ll be a core special teamer. That makes him an obvious favorite for the fifth cornerback job, and if the team only keeps five, Wreh-Wilson is likely headed elsewhere. The rest of the options here are chiefly UDFAs and Leon McFadden, and I can’t see any of them doing more than latching on to a practice squad spot given the team’s absurd depth at corner. We’re lucky to have this group.
  11. Give them some clicks.
  12. I found this to be an interesting little read, and I hope you do. Competition for roster spots should rule the day for the Falcons this summer At training camp and in preseason, the Falcons will have fierce competition for spots. Sometimes, a competition is actually a bad thing. If you don’t have a set starter at a position, and your options competing for the gig are less than inspiring, you have a competition that’s not ideal at all. Give me Alex Mack at center over James Stone and Mike Person fighting over the gig, for example. When we’re talking about the tail end of the roster, however, competition is rarely a bad thing. The Falcons figure to have fierce battles this summer for the final spots on the 53 man roster, including multiple players fighting for a single spot at some positions, and the cream should theoretically rise to the top. That’ll make an offseason where they are few starting jobs up for grabs a lot more interesting. Take cornerback. The Falcons currently have three clear-cut starters and one very valuable reserve in Brian Poole. Assuming they’ll keep five cornerbacks—a safe assumption, I think—that leaves Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Leon McFadden, Justin Bethel, and some interesting undrafted types fighting over one spot, or perhaps two if the Falcons really want to splurge at the position. Bethel’s special teams value gives him a real leg up, but the team clearly thinks McFadden is worse keeping around, Wreh-Wilson was surprisingly good a year ago, and a young player could sneak in to this competition. Or take fullback, where there’s only one job open and the team has two undrafted free agents on presumably even footing. Or wide receiver, where Russell Gage, Marvin Hall, Reggie Davis, and an interesting crop of undrafted players will be fighting for one or two gigs. In every case, the Falcons are not in a position where they should need to keep any uninspiring options for those final spots, because they have enough players fighting over spots that there should be a a gem (or at least a competent player) in the mix at all of these spots. Given that fullback is the only starting spot truly up for grabs this summer, that’s going to make for a little low-key drama where we might otherwise be lacking it. At the end of the day, it should only benefit this football team.