Around the NFL’s Gregg Rosenthal projected each team’s entire starting lineup, and he thinks the Falcons will trot out three rookies against the Eagles in the opener — among a few other surprise starters.
As you can see, Rosthenal believes third-round pick Jalen Mayfield will beat out Matt Gono, Josh Andrews, and Drew Dalman for the starting left guard position. He thinks Matt Hennessey will win the job over Dalman as well for starting center — the only two positions on offense up for grabs. Kyle Pitts is clearly going to start barring any major setbacks this offseason and completes the most potent receiving core in football — Rosenthal acknowledges such.
“Seriously, how will defenses line up to stop Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts at the same time? They can all toast single coverage, and they’re bound to see plenty of mismatches. Ridley’s development into a top-15 wide receiver already happened.”
“Even the supporting cast here can do damage. Hayden Hurst is annually underrated and is now the best TE2 this side of Foxborough. Russell Gage was a terrific slot player last year.”
Rosenthal’s projected defensive starters are where arguments can be had. Unlike the offense, which essentially only has two position battles, Dean Pees is looking for starters at nearly every position. Richie Grant starting isn’t something that should be considered a hot take; he might come in and be the best safety on the roster when Atlanta plays Philadelphia. The only reason he wouldn’t be ahead of Duron Harmon and Erik Harris is his lack of mental development. Rosenthal knows exactly how hard it is to project starting lineups this far out from the season, especially for this Falcons’ defense.
“There are five Falcons defenders that look locked into starting jobs. The rest of the group is mostly guesswork. A shaky secondary and the lack of a pass rush is a recipe for a lot of high-scoring games. Pees is a legend, and coaching this defense up to average level would be some of his finest work.”
Outside of Kendall Sheffield, I actually think he nailed the defensive starters. I believe the starting nickel back will be Isaiah Oliver, and in big nickel personnel, it will be Erik Harris. Sheffield has shown little progression since entering the league, but under a new regime with new systems, the former Ohio State Buckeye could experience an uptick in production. Even so, Oliver played much better in the slot last year than on the boundary, not that it was eye-popping production. It was merely an improvement from his previous play. The cornerback room is one injury away from being in serious trouble; it might behoove Pees if Terry Fontenot went out and signed another veteran boundary corner.
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