After a less than inspiring preseason game against the Titans, the Falcons have shown that even with an upgrade coaching staff, there is a lot of work to do going forward. There’s no reason to panic; preseason box scores and final scores are not important — evaluating the talent you have is what really matters. These are some guys who stood out in the first game that I’ll be keeping an eye on in the second game against the Dolphins.
The lack of depth at cornerback has not gone unnoticed by Falcons fans, but Atlanta took a few stabs in the draft while mostly neglecting the position in free agency outside of Fabian Moreau. Avery Williams was a 5th round pick, and most fans saw him as an immediate contributor on special teams (or “wefense,” as I call it). Williams had a great first game; he got some work on the boundary and didn’t fold. He had a pass breakup, and when the Titans challenged him twice on deep balls, he was rock solid in coverage. Williams returned a kick 38 yards that led to Atlanta’s only points of the game. In total, he returned five kicks for 105 yards, and I’m excited to see if he can continue to hold his own in coverage against Tua Tagovailoa and the rest of the Dolphins.
IOL Ryan Neuzil
I talked about Ryan Neuzil when the Falcons scooped him up as an undrafted free agent, and there’s no secret his connection to Dwayne Ledford influenced his decision to play in Atlanta. The Falcons need an infusion of young talent at guard, and Neuzil has been impressive in practice. Neuzil had a pancake in his first game, and if he keeps it up, he could easily snag a roster spot or remain on the practice squad at worst.
IOL Sam Jones
I was a little surprised to see Sam Jones penciled in as the second-string left guard, but with Jalen Mayfield thankfully kicking back inside, he may no longer hold that spot. Jones has been a journeyman for his two-year career, but as I discussed with Neuzil, the Falcons need a lot of help on the interior. Jones made the start against the Titans, and according to PFF, he was the best offensive lineman on the field for the Falcons for the whole game. Maybe if Jones has another solid showing, we start hearing his name as a potential swing guard.
EDGE Shareef Miller
Even though he was buried on the original depth chart, the Penn State product had a nice late-game sack in garbage time. He appears to be a perfect fit for what Dean Pees tries to do with his outside linebackers, and if he can make some noise against Miami, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make the roster as the last EDGE. He’ll have to beat out Brandon Copeland, who arguably had a better game against Tennessee.
I thought Thompson had a pretty good shot at making the roster; the Falcons have many very talented interior linebackers but not a ton of depth. Mykal Walker, Foyesade Oluokun, and Deion Jones are an amazing trio, but other than that, there isn’t a true fourth guy that has seized the position. Thompson laid a booming hit on a third-down coming off of a blitz, and it helped the Falcons get off the field:
I think the UDFA has a real chance to make the roster if he continues to play consistently as a reserve interior linebacker.
Etheridge was arguably the best player on the field for the Falcons last Friday.
Dorian Etheridge is going to see lots of playing time in the regular season if he keeps this up. 13 tackles and 3 TFLs looks pretty in the box score, but on those plays he was quickly diagnosing & hitting backs with bad intentions. (Via @CrispyCarlton)pic.twitter.com/pi7rWwVepk
— SportsTalkATL Jake (@cantguardjake) August 16, 2021
I think Thompson and Etheridge are the frontrunners when you talk about competition for an inside linebacker spot. He may be the guy I’m most excited to watch on Saturday.
Arthur Smith called this a “big week” for Qadree Ollison, indicating he may be on the roster bubble. However, he did what he could running behind a less-than-inspiring offensive line, and I don’t think his job is in any danger. I think he’s still the leader to be the “thumper” running back on this team, even with Caleb Huntley drawing a lot of attention.
This week, in a press conference, Arthur Smith left the door open for Franks to potentially start against Miami. Not that it matters that much, but Franks was clearly much more talented in terms of playmaking compared to AJ McCarron. He’s still incredibly raw and has a lot of development left to do, but when QB2 isn’t settled and you have an exciting rookie — of course, the fans will be watching.
IOL Jalen Mayfield
Much to my delight, Jalen Mayfield was moved back to the interior after struggling mightily at right tackle. Personally, I would rather start Mayfield and see what he has than running out a more “finished product” in Josh Andrews. The Falcons have massive question marks at left guard, but if Mayfield can hold his own on Saturday, he can inspire more hope in the fanbase.
While he wasn’t a big part of the 2020 team, 2020 4th Round Pick Jaylinn Hawkins has looked very good to start the preseason. He will get plenty of playing time alongside Richie Grant, as I don’t expect the Falcons to be using Erik Harris or Duron Harmon at all this week. Expect Dean Pees to utilize multiple safeties in different looks, and a combination of Hawkins and Grant could very well be the future of the position for the Falcons.