Falcons position battles to watch in preseason opener against Lions

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Falcons football is here as the team travels to Detroit to take on the Lions in their preseason opener. Atlanta has a ton of starting positions up for grabs that will need to be sorted out between their Week 1 matchup against the Saints. Here are the Falcons top position battles to watch tonight:

Center

Through training camp, the most liberal starting rotation has come at center between Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy. This battle will likely go down to the final preseason game, but the player who takes “command” as a leader is the one who’ll 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. Obviously, it didn’t work out, but the staff remains unsatisfied with Hennessy’s production. Dalman likely gets the nod if it’s neck and neck since the regime invested in him directly.

Left Guard

Jalen Mayfield began as the Day 1 starter, but it’s been Elijah Wilkinson every day since. Adding insult to injury for the 2021 third-round pick, Mayfield recently suffered an injury, which could solidify the position battle. The best man will win the job, but you’ve got to know the front office and coaching staff would prefer their third-round pick to beat out the veteran.

Right Tackle

Kaleb McGary‘s clock is running out in Atlanta. The team decided against picking up his fifth-year option, revealing how the staff and front office feel about the former first-round pick. The Falcons brought in Germain Ifedi to compete for a starting spot this offseason. I’d be shocked if he unseats McGary as the fourth-year tackle has taken every rep with the first-team offense.

Nickel

After moving to the slot for Dean Pees permanently, Oliver had his best stretch of games as a pro to begin 2021. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely after suffering a torn ACL. The Falcons’ defense suffered as a result, given the revolving door at the nickel position. Oliver is the favorite to win the job, but reports out of Flowery Branch suggest Darren Hall is giving him a run for his money. Mike Ford has had plenty of burn with the first-team defense too.

Wide Reciever

Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Olamide ZaccheausAuden Tate, and a few others will compete for only a few opportunities. Arthur Smith’s passing attack will feature Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson; the targets will be few and far between for the wideouts. Despite Smith using 11 personnel (3 WRs) more than any other formation, the Falcons’ offense ran almost half of their plays out of two-receiver sets. So, the obvious answer would be Edwards and London for the majority of snaps, but don’t count out Zaccheaus stealing opportunities, given his pedigree working from the slot.

Defensive End:

Ta’Quon Graham and Marlon Davidson will compete for snaps next to Grady Jarrett and Anthony Rush, who will likely be the team’s starting nose tackle in base packages. Graham was listed ahead of Davidson on the team’s depth chart in what feels like a make-it-or-break-it year for the Auburn product. Davidson just hasn’t been consistent, and Graham is looking to build off an impressive ending to his rookie campaign.

Linebacker:

It seems from the outside that the Falcons are still waiting for Deion Jones to get healthy to either cut or trade him, but he could find himself on the roster when Week 1 rolls around. If that is the case, I imagine Debo and Rashaan Evans will be the starters, given their experience. Nick Kwiatkoski and Mykal Walker shouldn’t be counted out, though. The former is as experienced as Jones and Evans, but his best years are definitely behind him. On the other hand, Walker hasn’t had the chance to be a full-time starter in the NFL yet but has flashed at times.

Early reports have indicated Walker is blowing the staff away. Kwiatkoski is still capable of providing solid run defense, and Troy Andersen is an athletic marvel who could really become a difference-maker in Dean Pees’ defense. The second-round rookie will likely play sparingly during his first season because of the mental side of the game. On top of all the speculation regarding Jones’ future in Atlanta, this position battle should be the most competitive this offseason.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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