The offseason is finally coming to an end, as the Falcons open training camp on Wednesday. That means it’s time for one last pre-camp 53-man roster projection (plus practice squad), and this is the most in-depth preview yet.
It’s been a long, dark offseason. There’s been very little Atlanta Falcons news, and what has come out has largely been depressing—Eddie Goldman’s surprise retirement was a significant bummer. On a more positive note, training camp is nearly here, with Atlanta kicking off their first practice on Wednesday, July 27. I’m happy to report that I’ll be there in-person to bring you all the news and notes from that practice, and every practice through August 3.
But before we get to the good stuff, I’ve got one more full 53-man roster projection for you. I’ve pulled out all the stops to deliver an in-depth, 3000+ word magnum opus on my predictions and thought process behind every single position on the depth chart. As I’ve yet to witness the 2022 team myself, much of this is based on the reporting of ESPN’s Mike Rothstein along with my personal opinions on these players from initial research. There’s a healthy dose of speculation in here, as well, so remember to take this as an educated guess instead of a statement of fact.
I hope this exercise helps you pass the time before we get to some legitimate Falcons news in just a few days. I’m extremely excited to get down to Flowery Branch and bring you all some extensive coverage. Without further ado, I present to you my pre-camp 53-man roster projection—plus 16-man practice squad, of course!
If you’re looking for a timeline of how this has evolved since the draft, check out the previous iterations of my projection below.
Post-Draft | June | Pre-Training Camp
Italics denote a change from the previous roster projection.
OFFENSE – 26
QB – 3
No changes at the top heading in to training camp—and no, I don’t expect there to be any additional moves that change that. However, I’m putting Feleipe Franks back on the active roster. This coaching staff seems determined to keep him around with a versatile role on offense and, if he’s going to make it, special teams. However, if Franks is no longer playing QB at all, it may make his path to the roster a lot harder and necessitate Atlanta bringing in another arm for the preseason. For what it’s worth, Franks is still listed as a QB.
Marcus Mariota is the heavy favorite to win the starting job and start Week 1, but it’s anyone’s guess how long that will last. As I detailed in a recent Twitter thread, Mariota is probably a little underrated in the grand scheme. But can he hold off a talented rookie like Desmond Ridder for long? I don’t know. Ridder started strong and impressed with his leadership before struggling a bit during minicamp. If I had to predict when Ridder gets his first start, right now, I’d say Week 11 against the Bears. But there’s a universe where Mariota plays well enough to keep Ridder on the bench until Atlanta is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
RB – 4
No changes here since my previous prediction, although I am preemptively bumping up Tyler Allgeier to the RB2 slot. I believe the rookie takes over the majority of the early down carries, leaving the high-leverage and passing-down work to Cordarrelle Patterson. Speaking of Patterson, I expect his role—lined up in the backfield or out wide—to be heavily based on matchups. He’s a chess piece and should be used like one.
Damien Williams is versatile and will be the primary backup if either needs a break. He’s honestly a bit underrated overall and can probably handle the load for a game or two if needed. Avery Williams should wind up as the RB4 as long as he wins the returner job. Anything he can show on offense—the RB4 has generally been inactive under Smith—is just icing on the cake. In theory his skills as a returner should translate well to the backfield, and he did play the position effectively in high school.
FB – 1
Until Keith Smith falters or John Raine looks more impressive as a blocker or on special teams, this is Smith’s job to lose. Smith has been one of the best special teams tacklers on the team and has steadily improved as a lead blocker. He caught 90% of his passes in 2021 and is a reliable emergency outlet as a receiver.
John Raine flashed some on offense during last year’s training camp, but he’s got a tough hill to climb to unseat Smith. He offers a bit more as a receiver due to his tight end background—62 receptions for 576 yards (9.3 YPR) over his final two seasons—but doesn’t have the same special teams pedigree. The one thing working in Raine’s favor could be Keith Smith’s contract. It’s certainly not exorbitant, but the release of Smith would free up $1.3M in cap space.
TE – 4
No changes here for now, but whether or not Feleipe Franks is classified as a TE or QB could shake things up. Kyle Pitts is obviously the headliner and will play a fair amount of WR as well. Despite his incredible, record-setting, Pro Bowl rookie season, Pitts is not being talked about with nearly as much fanfare as you’d expect. Obviously the loss of Matt Ryan stings for the receiving corps, but Pitts is an incredible talent. I’m expecting him to overcome what could be a shaky QB room and produce an even-better 2022—including, fingers crossed, more than one TD.
The addition of Anthony Firkser gives the team a complementary receiving TE with experience in Smith’s offense. Firkser has never posted gaudy numbers and is a receiving threat only, but he’s been a quality complementary target throughout his career. Rookie John FitzPatrick should take over the primary blocking role, while former UDFA Parker Hesse should once again earn a spot as a reserve piece due to his well-rounded skillset as a solid blocker and pass-catcher.
WR – 5
The top-4 of this group can pretty much be written down in pen, but after that it’s anyone’s guess. Rookie Drake London should get a ton of targets across from Kyle Pitts, while recent trade addition Bryan Edwards finally gets a chance at a significant WR2 role after several years buried on the depth chart in Las Vegas. Between Olamide Zaccheaus and Damiere Byrd, I think Atlanta will unearth a solid WR3. Byrd is a versatile field-stretcher—he ran a 4.27 at his Pro Day—and has more career production, but Zaccheaus seems to have the favor of the coaching staff considering they gave him an RFA tender worth $2.43M.
The battle for WR5 (and potentially 6, should the Falcons elect to shift some spots around) will be fierce, and I think it might come down to who is more likely to get poached off the practice squad and whether or not Tate can play special teams. Tate is the superior pass-catcher, but KhaDarel Hodge is a terrific and experienced gunner. If the team keeps six WRs, I think both make the final roster. It’s also worth noting that the Falcons currently have 12 receivers on the roster—the most of any position group. Any of these players could make a case for themselves over the course of camp and the preseason. 2021 sixth-rounder Frank Darby, a trio of intriguing UDFAs, and veterans Geronimo Allison and Cameron Batson could work their way into the discussion.
OL – 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Jalen Mayfield
C Matt Hennessy
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Germain Ifedi
T Kaleb McGary
G/T Elijah Wilkinson
C/G Drew Dalman
G Justin Shaffer
Training camp is nearly here, and we still haven’t seen any significant veteran additions to the interior offensive line. This is one spot where a move could come quickly if second-year LG Jalen Mayfield falters, but it seems the team is trying to give him a chance to prove himself after an extremely rocky rookie season. I have more confidence in one of Matt Hennessy or 2021 fourth-rounder Drew Dalman providing, at least, solid starter play at center.
The other sore spot is at right tackle, where Kaleb McGary struggled mightily as a pass blocker last year. I’m getting a little spicy here and predicting that veteran addition Germain Ifedi will end up winning the right tackle battle. Ifedi had serious issues with penalties over his first few years in the league, but has really improved over the last two seasons with just nine in his last 23 starts. He’s a good pass blocker (70.7 PFF grade in 2021) and is less than a year older than McGary at this point. The winner of this battle—if they play well through the 2022 season—could earn a sizable contract extension next year.
There are no questions whatsoever at the other two spots. Left tackle will be manned by veteran stalwart Jake Matthews for the foreseeable future since he signed a three-year extension this offseason. He’s under contract in Atlanta through his age 34 season in 2026. Right guard Chris Lindstrom is among the very best at his position despite constant chaos all around him, and should be in line for a big extension this offseason—though he is technically on the fifth-year option through 2023. I do expect Atlanta to lock Lindstrom in long-term, particularly with the abundance of cap space they should have in 2023.
The overall depth could be better this year, at least. Whoever loses the right tackle battle becomes the swing tackle, which in this projection would be McGary. The same is true on the inside, where one of Dalman or Hennessy will be the primary interior backup. Veteran addition Elijah Wilkinson offers versatility at guard and tackle, where he’s been a solid starter at times throughout his career. Rookie Justin Shaffer has some tough competition to make the roster, but he’s the favorite due to his draft status. Keep an eye on former UDFA Ryan Neuzil—who was Atlanta’s best OL in the 2021 preseason—and veteran Colby Gossett to potentially challenge for the roster and practice squad.
DEFENSE – 24
EDGE – 4
The position with the most dramatic makeover on defense, as only 2021 fifth-rounder Ade Ogundeji returns from last year’s squad. Which is a good thing, considering Atlanta’s edge rushers mustered just 8.5 sacks last season. Veteran Lorenzo Carter is a big wild card—he’s known more for his coverage and overall athleticism, but managed 5.0 sacks in the final five games of the 2021 season. If that hot streak to end the year was a sign of things to come instead of a mirage, he could be a big upgrade at one starting spot.
Second-round rookie Arnold Ebiketie is the early favorite to start opposite Carter in passing situations, and he’s got significant upside. Speaking of Ogundeji, he’s likely to play a lot of snaps as the primary run defender, while rookie third-rounder DeAngelo Malone should factor in as a designated pass rusher and special teamer early this year. If one of the veterans (Jordan Brailford, Quinton Bell) or UDFA Kuony Deng impresses, they could potentially make the roster as a fifth EDGE.
IDL – 5
From the position with the most change to the position with the least change, as Atlanta made no significant outside investment into their interior defensive line. Obviously, the surprise retirement of Eddie Goldman threw a bit of a wrench into things. Grady Jarrett is still awesome and will be depended on to carry the unit, as always. Former UDFA Anthony Rush flashed at nose tackle in 2021 and appears to fit the scheme a lot better than Tyeler Davison. Fifth-rounder Ta’Quon Graham has high developmental potential, and could find himself in a starting role—particularly as a run defender.
The final two spots are a bit more open. Veteran Vincent Taylor would seem to have the advantage, as he’s shown some intriguing flashes over the past few years. He’s also still recovering from a season-ending injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2021 season. If Taylor can return to his previous level of play, he’s a clear roster favorite. 2020 second-rounder Marlon Davidson is in a difficult spot. He’s obviously talented, but needs to have a strong camp and preseason to find his way into the starting lineup. If Davidson falters, he could be a surprise cut due to the $1.24M cap savings from his release.
Atlanta brought in a ton of competition for depth roles and the practice squad, with three UDFA signings—the most of any position group—and three veterans. I’m keeping a close eye on Jalen Dalton, who was released by the Saints in May, and UDFA nose tackle Timothy Horne. Remember that the Falcons frequently rostered two nose tackles during the 2021 season, which could be a path to the roster for Horne. There’s also the potential for the team to keep six interior linemen (which they also did at times during 2021) if someone makes a compelling enough case.
LB – 5
This is the position most likely to undergo a significant shakeup during camp. Deion Jones will begin on the PUP list, but all the buzz seems to suggest his time on the roster is limited. I hope he’s able to depart via trade to Dallas, where there’s a need at linebacker and Jones could reunite in a favorable scheme with Dan Quinn. If Jones remains on the roster, I suspect to see a more limited role for him in 2022. I think he can still be a strong coverage player and blitzer, but he’ll most likely leave the field on base package downs.
I think you could arrange the next three players in almost any order, depending on your personal opinion. Right now, I’m projecting recent veteran addition Nick Kwiatkoski and 2020 fourth-rounder Mykal Walker to play the majority of snaps as starters. Rashaan Evans, who played his best ball with Dean Pees in Tennessee, should be the primary “thumper” in base defense and has upside as a blitzer. Rookie Troy Andersen is a total wild card. I imagine he’ll eventually carve out a role as a sub-package coverage linebacker, but should be a fixture on special teams immediately. It all depends on how quickly he’s able to acclimate to the NFL. There’s a chance he’s a full-time starter by year’s end.
CB – 6
This might be the strongest starting group on the whole roster, offense included. A.J. Terrell had an incredible second year, allowing just 3.3 yards per pass. That’s the best mark since Darrelle Revis’ 2010 season, per Football Outsiders. He was incredible, and even if he can’t quite replicate that level of play this year, he gives Atlanta an elite CB1 presence. Beside him is former All-Pro Casey Hayward, who is entering his age 33 season. Hayward has shown no signs of slowing down thus far, with a very good 76.0 overall PFF grade in 2021. Terrell and Hayward make up easily the best duo Atlanta has seen since prime Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.
Isaiah Oliver is a more of a wild card, but he was looking like a completely different player prior to his ACL injury last season. His move to the slot over the past two seasons has seemingly paid off, as his physicality and coverage looked far better on the inside. If he’s back to his early-2021 form, this is the best trio in the NFC South.
The depth behind the top three is more suspect. 2021 fourth-rounder Darren Hall had an up-and-down rookie season, but seems to have the confidence of the coaching staff. He’s been mixing in with the starters in Oliver’s absence as an outside and slot corner during OTAs and minicamp. Veteran Mike Ford is a high-level gunner and special teams player, but thus far has been no more than a solid reserve on defense. The battle for the sixth cornerback (or, perhaps more accurately, 10th DB) slot will be fierce, as this is a massive group heading in to camp.
Right now, I’d list CFL standout Dee Alford as the favorite. He’s been a standout throughout the offseason. Former sixth-rounder Cornell Armstrong has also been mentioned frequently. Veteran Teez Tabor’s ability to play all over the secondary is also something to watch.
S – 4
There’s not a ton of intrigue here in terms of who will make the roster, but there is an interesting battle for the starting jobs. All four of these players could realistically wind up as Week 1 starters. I’m inclined to believe the team will give 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant and 2020 fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins every opportunity to win the jobs. Hawkins flashed in coverage but struggled as a tackler, while Grant was largely relegated to slot corner duty after Oliver’s injury. Improvement is needed from both of these players, but I’m bullish on their chances.
Meanwhile, the team brought in some veteran insurance by re-signing Erik Harris and adding Dean Marlowe from the Lions. Harris was Atlanta’s best safety in 2021 before he was sidelined with a season-ending injury late in the year. He’s a relative roster lock as long as he returns to health, but is more likely to be a rotational and special teams player this season. Marlowe has been a rotational player and special teamer for most of his career, but wound up starting nine games for Detroit in 2021 and four for Buffalo in 2020. He’s a solid if unspectacular starter and gives Atlanta a reliable starting-caliber reserve.
The only other safety on the roster is UDFA Tre Webb, who seems destined for the practice squad absent any additional moves at the position.
SPECIAL TEAMS – 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Bradley Pinion
LS Liam McCullough
The Falcons will be in elite hands (feet?) at kicker, and on onside kicks, with Younghoe Koo extended through the 2026 season. He’s second in field goal value since 2019—with only Justin Tucker besting him over that span—per Football Outsiders. Koo’s only weakness comes on kickoffs, where he’s been below-average throughout his career.
Punter has suddenly become intriguing. UDFA Seth Vernon was previously facing Dom Maggio in a competition that Vernon seemed legitimately favored to win. Now, veteran Bradley Pinion has entered the fray. Pinion is coming off a down year with the Bucs, but has largely been an above-average punter and elite kickoff specialist throughout his career. That and the fact that Pinion and Koo are the same age (28) could make them a logical long-term duo if Pinion returns to form this season.
Atlanta let stalwart long snapper Josh Harris walk in free agency. With former Titan Beau Brinkley ending up on season-ending IR after the draft, it’s down to just former UDFA Liam McCullough. McCullough has yet to snap in a regular-season NFL game, but was excellent during four seasons at Ohio State.
PRACTICE SQUAD – 16
RB Qadree Ollison – With Avery Williams taking over the fourth running back spot as the returner, Ollison finds himself just off the 53-man roster. He’ll be the first man up in case of injury.
TE Brayden Lenius – Interesting WR-to-TE convert who impressed in three seasons in the CFL. Arthur Smith has shown an affinity for undersized, receiving-focused TEs (Jonnu Smith, Anthony Firkser, MyCole Pruitt). Lenius could be the next.
WR KhaDarel Hodge – It’s really a coin flip right now between Tate and Hodge. The tiebreaker could be that Tate is much more likely to get poached off the squad. But Hodge is a terrific special-teamer while Tate generally hasn’t played teams, and that could be the difference.
WR Frank Darby – 2021’s sixth-round pick has a difficult path to the roster. Darby needs to prove himself on offense and special teams to beat out the veterans ahead of him.
WR Tyshaun James – Super-athletic developmental WR with terrific size (6’2, 216). Fits the team’s profile.
G Ryan Neuzil – Former UDFA was Atlanta’s best OL in the 2021 preseason and could surprise. Keep an eye on Neuzil early—if he’s getting reps with the second-string, he could be a legitimate roster contender.
G/T Colby Gossett – End of the roster depth at guard and tackle who the staff seems to like.
G/T Tyler Vrabel – Developmental swing tackle prospect and likely guard convert. If he transitions to guard and plays well, he could be a sleeper for the roster.
EDGE Jordan Brailford – 2019 seventh rounder (Vikings) has some interesting upside.
DT Jalen Dalton – A recent addition after a successful minicamp tryout, Dalton has tremendous length and flashed in the preseason with New Orleans. A dark horse for the roster.
DT Timothy Horne – NT prospect with good size (6’5, 321) and length could also challenge for the roster, particularly if Falcons elect to keep two NTs.
LB Nate Landman – Very productive linebacker at Colorado who I’ll have on the 53-man roster if/when Deion Jones is traded or released.
LB Dorian Etheridge – Impressive 2021 UDFA just misses the cut for the active roster, but should stick around on the squad.
CB/S Teez Tabor – Reliable reserve who can play both corner and safety. I’d expect Tabor to be a frequent call-up if injuries strike in the secondary.
CB Cornell Armstrong – Former sixth-rounder from the 2018 draft has bounced around the league, but reportedly impressed throughout OTAs and minicamp.
S Tre Webb – With UDFA Brad Hawkins waived, Webb is the last man standing at safety. Webb has terrific size and developmental potential.
What are your thoughts on this potential roster and practice squad for the Falcons?