Atlanta has one sure thing and some question marks.
Our pre-training camp look at the Falcons roster rolls on, this time with a closer look at special teams. This will be a little bit of a shorter article, obviously.
Still, there’s plenty of intrigue ahead this summer for Marquice Williams’ group. Only kicker is a settled matter today, with a lot of big question marks at punter and long snapper and at least some intrigue around the returner spots. The Falcons have also assembled several quality candidates for gunner spots, something we’ll discuss further in a future article.
Let’s take a closer look at the specialists on the roster today.
The Falcons are set here, which is a rare thing for this particular team at this particular time. Koo turned a solid 2019 audition into a stellar 2020, and he followed that up with another efficient and accurate campaign in 2021. The Falcons justifiably gave him a multi-year deal to ensure they don’t have to sweat the kicker position for a long time.
It bears repeating here: Koo was third in the NFL in field goal percentage and one of just four kickers to nail all their extra point tries in 2021, and he’s solid if not quite spectacular on kickoffs. Aside from a handful of positions like fullback, left tackle, and right guard, this is the rare spot where there’s no competition at all, which is a testament to Koo.
The Falcons are not set here, and their 2022 punter may not even be on the roster right now.
Maggio has been around the team since last January, when he was memorably the first free agent signing of Terry Fontenot’s tenure as Falcons general manager. He has a strong leg and has had plenty of opportunity to make an impression on the team at this point, which will likely work in his favor. It’s still noteworthy that even though the Falcons spun the punter carousel multiple times in 2021, Maggio never did get a real crack at the job, so his 2022 fortunes probably depend on health and improvement.
Vernon is an undrafted free agent punter who we’d all be penciling onto the practice squad at best if there was a more established option here. The rookie also has a pretty good leg and is a notably large man for the position, standing four inches taller and nearly 40 pounds heavier than Maggio, and his combination of size and athleticism could make him intriguing for a team emphasizing that combo seemingly everywhere on the roster.
I genuinely have no idea what’s going to happen here, but the chances of neither option wowing the team and a veteran ultimately holding down the job is somewhere well north of zero. My early bet is Vernon, but this is one of the least settled positions on the entire roster.
Right now, it’s a one man competition for the job, and I’m not certain whether we’ll see former Titan Beau Brinkley or not. Brinkley is currently on injured reserve, you’ll recall.
That leaves McCullough, the former Raider and Steeler and a player who has yet to long snap in a regular season game. If he impresses this summer, the lack of competition and the fact that the team liked him enough to sign him in the first place probably gives him first crack at the job. If he doesn’t, well, there’s always free agency.
As is the case with punter, there’s an early favorite (McCullough, obviously), but you shouldn’t be surprised if the job goes to a player who isn’t on the roster right now.
WR/RB Cordarrelle Patterson
RB Avery Williams
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
WR Cameron Batson
The intrigue here concerns Patterson, and whether one of the greatest kick returners in NFL history will take that job back in 2022 or not. The Falcons had him focus on offense as arguably their deadliest weapon in 2021, but with a flurry of additions on that side of the ball, they might ease him back into the role he’s thrived in throughout his NFL career.
That’s not a lock after Williams was pretty good there his rookie season, and Williams also has the fast track to the punt returner job after holding it down throughout 2021. The second-year pro was a tremendously productive college returner and could be one of the better ones in the league with time, so I’d expect him to slot comfortably in as the punt returner and potentially the kick returner.
Zaccheaus, Batson, and others might become factors if Williams isn’t a roster lock, but that doesn’t seem like a genuine possibility at the moment. They’ll still be at least nominally competing this summer, though, and Zaccheaus seems like a strong bet to step in if Williams is ever unable to go.
There are other contenders here, but my expectation is that Williams holds down both spots throughout the year, and that will be his ticket to a roster spot as he converts from cornerback to running back this year.