The Falcons made a flurry of roster moves earlier this week to get down to 80 players before their final exhibition game against the Jaguars Saturday. Following the preseason finale, every organization will have to get down to their final 53-man roster. And though most of the Falcons’ depth chart is set, several positions are still up for grabs — both starters and reserves. Here are some position battles to watch ahead of final roster cuts.
The tightest race has come at center between Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy. According to Arthur Smith, the player who takes “command” as a leader will be the starter. Hennessy started every game for the Falcons last season, but he and Dalman went through a two-week stretch where they rotated every two offensive series.
In the Falcons’ preseason opener against the Lions, Hennessey got the start at center, working with the first team offense in Detroit. Dalman got the nod against New York. If you can’t do simple math, that’s one start each. Whichever player gets the start this weekend against the Jaguars will likely be the favorite to start in the regular season opener against the Saints.
This isn’t one many fans are likely expecting; after all, Mykal Walker and Rashaan Evans have started every rep in practice and both preseason matchups. However, Deion Jones returned to practice on Wednesday, adding a wrinkle to the competition. Jones should be considered a longshot to overtake Walker or Evans this late into the offseason, but Arthur Smith didn’t rule out that possibility.
Arthur Smith on Deion Jones' return: “I’ll say this about Deion: I’ll give him credit. He has the right mindset to get out there and prove something. He knows what he has to improve from last year… He wanted to be back. He wants to compete. We’ll see where it goes.”
— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) August 24, 2022
Tyler Allgeier, Qadree Ollison, and Caleb Huntley are battling for what will likely be the final roster spot at running back. Cordarrelle Patterson didn’t play a single snap during the preseason, and that’s because the team is trying to save his legs with a personalized offseason training regiment. Damien Williams garnered few snaps, which means his spot is also secure.
The battle is likely between Allgeier and Ollison, who have taken a majority of the reps in the preseason. The former got a ton of burn with the first-team offense against the Jets on Monday night, and he’s probably the favorite, considering the front office drafted him just a few months ago. I’d imagine Ollison will be a priority for the practice squad.
Frank Darby, Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt, Stanley Berryhill, Cameron Batson, and KeeSean Johnson are battling for what could be one or two roster spots. In reality, it’s likely a three-man battle between Darby, Byrd, and Bernhardt.
The Falcons’ sixth-round pick from a year ago has done little in terms of on-field production, but Darby is certainly a firecracker and positive influence in the locker room. Byrd and Bernhardt have been much more impressive in producing on the field. Bernhardt has been showing up in bunches through two weeks of preseason; I’d be shocked if he didn’t make the final 53-man roster with another good showing against the Jags.
The Falcons head coach has been a well-documented tight end lover but might have to part ways with one or two exciting players. Parker Hesse, John FitzPatrick, and MyCole Pruitt are all deserving of a roster spot, but after his performance against the Jets, Pruitt has to be the favorite. Hesse would’ve been my choice at the beginning of the offseason, but he’s shown no ability to be anything other than a blocker. Still, that’s what the coaching staff could be looking for in their final tight end, and to that, your guess is as good as mine.
Rick Leonard, Colby Gossett, Justin Shaffer, Leroy Watson, and Tyler Vrabel will battle for one spot, but I think it’s pretty cut and dry. Gossett has to be the favorite. Rookie sixth-rounder Shaffer looked horrid against the Jets. Leonard was a good bet to make the squad, but several penalties in the red zone probably nixed that possibility. I imagine both of those players will be on the practice squad.
This is by far the thinnest unit on the roster. Marlon Davidson went down with injury, and Eddie Goldman retired shortly after signing. It’s been hit after hit. Jalen Dalton and Vincent Taylor were favorites to make the roster before being placed on injured reserve. At this point, Nick Thurman is maybe the best bet to make the final 53-man roster. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Falcons scoured the waiver wire during the final round of cuts to pick up another team’s trash.
Outside of the receiver competition, the defensive backfield is the most competitive roster battle. Mike Ford, Teez Tabor, Dee Alford, Lafayette Pitts, Corey Ballentine, and Matt Hankins will be scratching and clawing for one or two spots. At this point, the favorites are Dee Alford, Teez Tabor, and Mike Ford. Personally, I’d bet on Alford; he’s consistently shown up in both preseason matchups. Tabor, like Alford, notched an interception. This will be one to certainly keep an eye on this Saturday against the Jaguars.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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