Who’s on the roster before training camp, and what battles lie ahead?
It figures to be a summer of competition for the Falcons. On offense, you’re looking at starting quarterback, starting running back, third receiver, left guard, center, and right tackle all being up for grabs, plus several reserve roles. If nothing else, it’s going to make training camp more interesting for us, but the hope is that it will also lead to a stronger roster when the dust settles.
Let’s take a closer look at the current state of the roster on offense, and what might be ahead for these players during the summer.
Expected starter: Marcus Mariota
I’m not convinced this group is entirely settled. Mariota has the early leg up as the more experienced option, especially as someone Arthur Smith clearly likes and is familiar with. If that’s the case, Ridder should step easily into the backup role, with a chance to push Mariota for starts later in the year.
Franks may or may not be the team’s third quarterback. The advantages of carrying him as one are evident, given that he’ll be playing roles as a tight end and special teamer and will already be on the roster assuming he makes it. At the same time, I’m not convinced the Falcons will want to lean on him as a direct backup who might have to step into a game if injury wreaks havoc on the depth chart, so you may still see a signing here.
Expected starters: Tyler Allgeier, Keith Smith
There’s room for four backs and a fullback on this roster, potentially, and it’s a small group competing given that.
I’m a believer that Allgeier will wind up playing the largest role as a runner in this backfield, so he belongs in here as the de facto starter. Patterson will be a true weapon and will likely split time between the backfield and split out wide, while Williams will operate as a third down back and home run hitter, splitting work with Allgeier.
That leaves Ollison, Williams, and Huntley possibly fighting for one spot. Ollison settled into that role last year and had a couple of solid efforts, but Huntley was intriguing last year and should push him hard for the spot. The problem for both is that now Williams is on offense, where his speed is something the Falcons are lacking, and he would appear to be a very strong bet for the returner jobs. Don’t be stunned if there’s another addition if this trio doesn’t stand out in camp, but Williams should have a fast track to a job because of his special teams value.
Raine will be pushing for a second straight season on the practice squad, more than likely.
WR Drake London
WR Bryan Edwards
WR Olamide Zaccheaus
WR Auden Tate
WR Damiere Byrd
WR Geronimo Allison
WR Cameron Batson
WR Frank Darby
WR KhaDarel Hodge
WR Tyshaun James
WR Stanley Berryhill
WR/KR Jared Bernhardt
Even with the recent release of Austin Trammell, this is a large group of receivers.
AtlantaFalcons.com writer Tori McElhaney has indicated that she feels Olamide Zaccheaus is a lock, and if so, he joins London and Edwards are the obvious players making the roster. Things are mighty unsettled after that.
Hodge, Bernhardt, Batson, Berryhill, and Darby all stand the strongest chances of latching on if special teams is a major factor, as they all have experience there in college or the pros. Hodge would seem to have an early leg up because he’s a very good gunner, but Darby was a pick of this regime last year and settled into a significant role on teams in 2021. Berryhill and Bernhardt are interesting players who may have to settle for practice squad roles, while Batson seems like a longshot but does have returner experience and ties to Arthur Smith.
James, Batson, and Byrd are the speed options in this group. Byrd is the most seasoned pass catcher in the entire receiver group and has legitimate wheels, which would seemingly give him a leg up. If he’s competing head-to-head with Zaccheaus for a roster spot, his chances are probably dimmer. James has some size (6’2”) and speed as well and is one of my practice squad locks if he’s not pushing for a roster spot, as his game is intriguing.
Finally, if we’re talking about size, Tate and Allison are options to provide it. Tate was one of the more heralded signings of the early free agent period but now has to navigate a depth chart where there are many players with more special teams experience than him, which might be key to securing a role down the depth chart. He still has the size and physicality to be a nice fit for this passing attack. Allison is a more proven option, but likely will need to knock Tate out of the picture to have a real shot.
It’s going to be a summer of competition for this group, and we’ll preview it in more detail soon.
TE Kyle Pitts
TE Anthony Firkser
TE Parker Hesse
TE John FitzPatrick
TE Brayden Lenius
TE Leroy Watson
TE/DE Tucker Fisk
While the numbers are smaller here, the competition for the last one or two spots will be interesting as well. Pitts is locked in as this offense’s top weapon and top tight end, while Firkser figures to play a major role after coming over from Tennessee. Those are your only two locks.
FitzPatrick is a good blocker with a little upside as a receiver, and will figure to be battling head-to-head with Hesse and Lenius. If the Falcons want a high-upside pass catching option, Lenius probably gets the nod after coming over from the CFL and converting from receiver, as he’s a big threat with some after the catch ability. If they’re looking for blocking first and foremost, FitzPatrick and Hesse are options, and Hesse is coming off a season where he showed well as a blocker and pass catching option when given the opportunity.
Watson is a converted tackle with size and strength to spare, while Fisk is an interesting project with experience at both tight end and along the offensive line. The two are probably battling for a practice squad role.
T Jake Matthews
T Kaleb McGary
T Germain Ifedi
T Rick Leonard
T/G Elijah Wilkinson
T Tyler Vrabel
G Jalen Mayfield
G Chris Lindstrom
G Ryan Neuzil
G/T Colby Gossett
G Justin Shaffer
C Matt Hennessy
C Drew Dalman
C Jonotthan Harrison
Three starting jobs are up for grabs this summer, with only Jake Mattehws and Chris Lindstrom locked into their roles.
Jalen Mayfield is the favorite at left guard after the Falcons stuck with him during a rough rookie season, but it’ll depend on how much he improves. It appears free agent signing Elijah Wilkinson will mix in at left guard alongside Neuzil, Gossett, and Shaffer, giving the team a pretty heated battle for reserve guard roles. None of those players should be expected to knock off Mayfield in 2022, though I like both Neuzil and Shaffer’s long-term upside. There’s probably only one or two roles up for grabs here, and Wilkinson’s positional versatility will help him.
At center, it’s between Dalman and Hennessy, and I’d expect a much more lively battle than we saw a year ago. Dalman’s my early pick to get the job, with Harrison finding his way to a practice squad spot as the team’s de facto third center if he has a nice summer.
Finally, right tackle figures to come down to McGary and Ifedi, with the loser taking on a reserve role. That leaves Wilkinson and Leonard—plus any new additions—competing for the final tackle spot on the roster.
Today, I have a feeling you’ll see Matthews, Mayfield, Dalman, Lindstrom, and McGary left to right, with Ifedi, Hennessy, Wilkinson, and Shaffer holding down reserve roles. There’s a competitive summer ahead to determine that, though.
What battles are you most looking forward to in training camp?