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Fifty-four thoughts on the initial Falcons 53-man roster for 2019

Goober Pyle

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With this being the 54th season for the Atlanta Falcons, here are 54 thoughts on the initial 53-man roster, broken down by position.


1. Matt Ryan looked as good as he has in, perhaps, his entire career this preseason. At 34, there isn’t any sign he’s slowing down. The best example was against the New York Jets, with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams sending multiple blitzes Ryan’s way. Ryan took three sacks and eight hits but still managed to go 10-for-14 for 118 yards. He took his shots but still completed his passes, and while he didn’t complete four of his throws, three of those were dropped. He theoretically could have gone 13-for-14 with a touchdown while under a great deal of duress.

2. For all of the old man jokes thrown Matt Schaub’s way, he proved he can still be the backup. After a rough Hall of Fame Game performance in which Schaub played with third- and fourth-teamers, the longtime veteran bounced back with strong showings against the Dolphins and the Jets. Schaub has been in the league long enough that he won’t be rattled in any moment. While he may not be the player he was during his prime with the Texans, he can be relied upon to finish a game or get through a short stretch if Ryan is forced to sit due to injury.

3. While Danny Etling was waived Saturday, the Falcons will try their best to add him to the practice squad. Atlanta needs at least three quarterbacks at practice and would love to keep Etling in the fold. In fact, the Falcons wanted to sign him after he went undrafted in 2018, only for the Patriots to take him in the seventh round.

Running backs

4. It seems like those not paying close attention to Atlanta are overlooking Devonta Freeman. For the first time in a while, he’s completely healthy. Considering his big salary, the timeshares of old are probably unlikely now that Tevin Coleman is in San Francisco. Freeman is a three-down back who can make plays as a runner and as a receiver. It’s time for Freeman to be featured more than he has been in previous years.

5. If anything does happen to Freeman, Ito Smith should be able to take on a bigger load. Although Brian Hill showed the most improvement during the past year, Smith, when given the opportunity, showed he’s the clear No. 2 back. His agility and vision, combined with being an excellent receiver out of the backfield, are reasons why Atlanta was able to part ways with Coleman.

6. Hill did everything asked of him during the offseason and then some. Adding some pass-catching ability to his game took him from the bubble to a lock.

7. The Falcons love Qadree Ollison as a change-of-pace back. With good size and vision, he offers an old-school between-the-tackles style of runner Atlanta hasn’t had in quite some time. He showed Thursday he can play fullback as well.


8. The Falcons elected to keep Ricky Ortiz even though he’s dealing with an ankle injury. There may not be a harder-working player on the team. His best highlight this preseason was when he sealed an outside rusher on a short-yardage touchdown against Miami.

Tight ends

9. Austin Hooper’s numbers have improved each season. As a rookie, he caught 19 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. In 2017, he caught 49 passes for 526 yards and three touchdowns. After an offseason in which he followed Ryan to various workouts around the country, he had 71 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns in 2018. In a contract year, Hooper could be in for an even bigger statistical jump.

10. Luke Stocker was given the starter treatment beginning with the first preseason game. He figures to have a big role as Atlanta’s top blocking tight end. His addition proved to be one of the reasons why the Falcons parted ways with Logan Paulsen.

11. Another reason Atlanta could afford to cut Paulsen is the emergence of Jaeden Graham, who spent all of 2018 on the practice squad and wasn’t expected to make a big jump in just one year. But the Yale product showed good strength as a blocker and solid athleticism as a receiver — highlighted by a leap over a Jets safety. He followed up with first-team action against Washington. Graham’s second-year jump also allowed the Falcons to part ways with Eric Saubert, who was traded to New England earlier in the preseason. Saubert did not make the Patriots’ 53-man roster.

Wide receivers

12. Julio Jones doesn’t have a new contract yet. This is surprising. That’s really it regarding Jones, who has had more than 1,400 receiving yards in each of the past five seasons.

13. Calvin Ridley caught 10 touchdown passes as a rookie with a lot of his success coming against the New Orleans Saints. In those two games, Ridley had a a combined 239 yards and four touchdowns.

14. A reliable third-down target, Mohamed Sanu is coming off one of the best seasons of his career — 838 yards and four touchdowns. He also has thrown a touchdown pass in each of the past two years. Having completed seven of his eight throws for 233 yards and four touchdowns, Sanu boasts a perfect career passer rating of 158.3.

15. If Hill isn’t the most improved player on Atlanta’s roster, that nod could go to Russell Gage. Although Gage’s preseason concluded early with a hip injury, he made considerable gains as a wide receiver. Not utilized much as a downfield weapon at LSU, Gage has flashed big-play ability all offseason. He could start the season opener against Minnesota as the team’s fourth wide receiver.

16. It’s hard not to go with a proven veteran when the opportunity presents itself, and if anything happens to a starter, Justin Hardy has enough of an established relationship with Ryan to step in and keep the offense rolling.

17. The decision came down to Olamide Zaccheaus, Christian Blake, Devin Gray and Marcus Green for the sixth and final wide receiver spot. The Falcons went with Zaccheaus, an undrafted rookie out of Virginia. It’s likely due to the team not believing Zaccheaus would make it past waivers if he were cut. Atlanta will hope to place Blake, Gray and Green, a sixth-round draft pick, on the practice squad Sunday afternoon.

Offensive linemen

18. The biggest question remaining with the offensive line is who will start the opener at right tackle. A case could be made for any of the three options — Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono and Kaleb McGary — to do so. This upcoming week of practice will decide who gets the early nod, even if the competition continues into the first month of the regular season.

19. Sambrailo didn’t have an ideal preseason. He was injured against the Jets and sat out the final two exhibitions. His tape against the Jets probably looked worse than it should, namely due to the blitzes Williams dialed up in a preseason game.

20. Gono did a good job against quality competition in the dress rehearsal against Washington. An undrafted free agent out of Wesley, a Division III school, Gono spent 2018 on the 53-man roster but didn’t play. Although Gono said he still needs to improve his pass sets, his preseason performance was encouraging.

21. McGary didn’t get any preseason action until Thursday’s game against Jacksonville, and even then, he went against a bunch of players who didn’t make the Jaguars. Still, his showing was encouraging as he displayed his penchant for power in the run while keeping Etling clean in the pocket. At some point this year — whether it’s next week or later — McGary probably will get the starting job. But considering he missed a good chunk of practice time, the team may want to ease him into action.

22. If you want to watch a tactician at work, keep your eyes on Jake Matthews play after play.

23. Alex Mack is still one of the most technically sound centers. He turns 33 in November.

24. The Falcons were comfortable with Chris Lindstrom, the No. 14 pick, starting at right guard the moment the preseason began. Lindstrom got great experience and will open the year with the first unit.

25. With James Carpenter injuring a hip flexor midway through the preseason, Jamon Brown, mostly a right guard before joining Atlanta, was able to get good experience on the left side of the line. Now healthy, Carpenter is back in the competition, which could still go either way. Much like right tackle, the first week of practice will be a deciding factor for who gets the first start against the Vikings.

26. If McGary wins the starting job, it wouldn’t be out of the question to wonder whether Sambrailo or Gono start practicing at guard, simply to cross-train them in the event of injury. One of the Falcons’ primary areas of focus this offseason was to ensure depth and competition along the offensive line and to ensure the issues that popped up a year ago don’t occur again.

27. With Mack cemented as the team’s center, Wes Schweitzer received a lot of time with both the first and second teams as his backup. Schweitzer was drafted as a guard but he may as well be considered a center with how much playing time he has received there this preseason.

Defensive linemen

28. Takk McKinley took a former teammate’s advice when it came to eating better, deciding the fewer legs the animal has, the better it is to consume. He lost some bad weight in the process, didn’t have to rehab an injury this offseason and looks ready to put forth the kind of season many expected of him after he was drafted in the first round in 2017.

29. Dan Quinn placed a lot of faith in Vic Beasley, as well as himself, by deciding to pick up Beasley’s fifth-year option. Beasley had a sack against the Jets and looked fast off the edge this preseason. He’ll hope that translates into much-improved production.

30. Grady Jarrett got paid well this offseason — $68 million for four years. The Falcons are very happy they were able to get the deal done considering how important Jarrett is to the franchise. It was a negotiation they were very concerned about until an agreement was struck 70 minutes before the franchise tag deadline.

31. Helping Jarrett inside will be Tyeler Davison, who might just be the most important offseason acquisition Atlanta made. Davison’s presence should shore up its deficiencies against the run, which were problematic, especially late in games, a year ago.

32. The other big addition Atlanta made on the defensive line was to add Allen Bailey, who spent eight seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Bailey waited patiently for Atlanta to take care of some other contractual obligations before signing.

33. Jack Crawford is entering the final year of his contract but had the best season of his career in 2018 with 35 tackles and six sacks. With the additions Atlanta made up front, combined with Quinn calling plays, Crawford could be in for an even bigger year.

34. The Falcons traded up two spots to take Division II prospect John Cominsky in the fourth round at No. 135 overall. They did so because they loved his game because they believed Dallas was going to take him at No. 137 overall. Dallas traded out of the spot after Atlanta took Cominsky.

35. Deadrin Senat saved his best football for when it mattered most. Entering his second season, Senat, a third-round pick in 2018, made the 53-man roster over Justin Zimmer and Durant Miles.


36. Deion Jones spent the preseason rehabbing his injured foot. Although he hasn’t played in a preseason game, he’s in a good spot mentally. He’ll be ready to go against Minnesota.

37. De’Vondre Campbell figures to be in for a big payday after this season. The question remains whether Atlanta will be the team that can afford his contract. Possibly due to the other defenders around him, Campbell is one of the Falcons’ most underrated players when it comes to his national profile.

38. The steal of Atlanta’s 2018 draft class was Foye Oluokun. Poised to be Atlanta’s top will linebacker, Oluokun was a sixth-round pick. He is one of two former Yale players — joining Graham — on the roster.

39. Duke Riley quietly put together a solid preseason. Highlighted by a goal-line tackle against Washington, Riley said he has improved a good bit with his situational awareness.

40. Jermaine Grace put together too good of a preseason to not be on the initial 53-man roster. His speed at linebacker and his ability to cover on special teams might make him tough to deactivate on game days. It was probably a tough call for Atlanta to go with Grace over Bruce Carter, who offered a veteran presence inside the locker room last season.


41. During the offseason, Desmond Trufant’s name came up repeatedly as someone could be in for a big season. Trufant’s speed will keep him in plays. His biggest focus has been to be physical at the line of scrimmage and to not bail from rerouting receivers too early. He has done a good job of that in practice and will look for that to carry over into games.

42. Isaiah Oliver, Atlanta’s second-round selection in 2018, will get his first opportunity to be a starter. Oliver has an almost 7-foot wingspan that gives him great length to be physical at the line of scrimmage. His area of emphasis has been staying on top of routes once he’s no longer able to make contact with receivers.

43. Atlanta moved Damontae Kazee from safety to nickel to keep his ball-hawking skills on the field. In Atlanta’s scheme, a lot of principles of playing safety apply to the cornerbacks. Kazee was a cornerback in college, so some believe this move could further aid his development.

44. Kendall Sheffield already might be the fastest player on Atlanta’s roster. He said he ran a 4.26-second 40-yard dash in college at Ohio State, which is believable when you see him move at full speed. He’s coming off of a hamstring injury.

45. Jordan Miller figures to have a role on special teams at the start of the year as the Falcons continue to develop him at cornerback. If not for injuries, Miller could have been taken well before the sixth round, which is when Atlanta selected him.

46. While he’s an outside cornerback only, Blidi Wreh-Wilson has proved to be reliable when called upon. He got the veteran treatment during the preseason, which was an early indicator his roster spot was safe.


47. Ricardo Allen (torn Achilles) and Keanu Neal (torn ACL) are definitely the feel-good stories of Atlanta’s preseason. It’s rather amazing to think the two had major injuries less than a year ago but are full-go to start the season. Science sure has come a long way.

48. While there are some better athletes on this roster, Allen’s loss might have been the toughest to absorb last year. Allen acts like an on-field coach and is usually the one ensuring everyone is lined up correctly. Neal is an imposing presence at strong safety, considering his hard-hitting abilities against the run and pass. The Falcons missed having a box safety of his caliber in 2018 and are surely thankful to have him back.

49. With Allen and Neal sidelined for the year, Sharrod Neasman got great experience with Atlanta’s defense in 2018. If something happens to either starting safety this year, the Falcons know they have someone with familiarity backing them up.

50. Kemal Ishmael’s primary reason for being on the roster is on special teams. But with J.J. Wilcox going down with a torn ACL on the first day of training camp, Ishmael moved from linebacker to safety — his original position when he entered the NFL — to back up Neal. If needed on defense, Ishmael can play either position and has done so this preseason.

Special teams

51. Reporters rarely talk to long snapper Josh Harris. That’s a good thing. When you talk to the long snapper, something bad has probably occurred.

52. Matt Bosher boomed a 60-yard punt against Jacksonville on Thursday. He also can tackle better than the average punter. Just ask Atlanta’s new return man.

53. Speaking of which, Kenjon Barner felt Bosher’s wrath when he was with the Carolina Panthers last year. Barner is opening as Atlanta’s primary return specialist. Whether he handles both kickoffs and punts, or just one, remains to be seen.

54. Money. Matt. Bryant. He’s back.



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4 minutes ago, octoslash said:

Really feeling good about the tight end situation, and what should be a deep defensive line.  

And I have to take back a lot of my Bosher jokes.  He ended up looking good, although I am worried about him having to resume kickoffs with GT now gone.  

I'm so glad Graham made it. Hes way better than saubert. Kid could never get it together. I cannot wait for the season to start this year could be epic .

Our defense has never shown this much ability and pressure during preseason. They have multiple guys on the line making the offensive line second guess.

Not to mention making the throwing windows smaller with the corners playing tight coverage. 

Buckle up fellas.

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