For better or worse, Falcons football is back as the team travels to Detroit to take on the Lions in the preseason opener. The roster is still under observation as the front office works its way down to the final 53 players. The starters are expected to play, but how many snaps has yet to be determined and will likely be a judgment call from the coaching staff. The Falcons have a ton of intriguing individuals to watch; here are a few fans should keep their eyes on:
In his first preseason game, Malik Willis was impressive when throwing and running the ball for the Titans. Many believed the Liberty product could’ve worked in Atlanta, but the front office went with Ridder. One preseason game isn’t going to be indicative of the career Ridder will have, but if he comes out and looks terrible, Falcons fans will be irate.
Franks has the chance to play quarterback and tight end against the Lions today, but if you look at the snap allocation during training camp, they’d suggest he’ll take a majority of reps at tight end. The Falcons used Franks in special packages a year ago, and it seems that trend will continue in 2022. Atlanta should give Ridder as many series as possible, but Franks will likely garner a series or two at quarterback.
Mayfield has effectively lost his starting spot at left guard to Elijah Wilkinson during training camp, who has been taking snaps with the first-team offense every day. I imagine this is a critical juncture in Mayfield’s career. If he can’t show the front office he’s capable of developing, his time in Atlanta could be winding down.
The incumbent starter, Wilkinson, should be watched closely. Even though anything is better than what Mayfield provided during his rookie season, Wilkinson will be heavily scrutinized if he looks bad. The Falcons are hopeful they can solidify that position along the offensive line, but only time will tell if Wilkinson is the answer.
The center competition will be intriguing to watch all preseason, and I doubt the starter is named until the week of the season opener against the Saints. Dalman and Hennessy have been rotating throughout training camp; it’s clear the Falcons weren’t satisfied with Hennessy’s production a year ago. The regime drafted Dalman, so you’d have to think if the competition is neck and neck, the second-year pro will get the nod.
Grant has impressed the staff and media throughout training camp, even notching an interception. The Falcons need Grant to take a significant step forward in his development during his second season. Spending a premium pick on a safety that can only be a special teams contributor isn’t conducive to building a sustainable winning culture. However, I was high on Grant coming out of UCF, and it looks like he’s trending in the right direction.
TQ is more than likely going to be starting next to Anthony Rush and Grady Jarrett along the defensive front this year. He came on real strong during the end of his rookie season and is looking to build on that. Graham has some pass rush chops, which the Falcons will be heavily reliant on given their status as the worst pass rushing team in football.
The Falcons traded up to grab the Penn State edge rusher, and expectations are high for him. As mentioned above, Atlanta was dead last in the league in sacks, and the second-to-last Eagles totaled 11 more than the Falcons. Ebiketie is the start of finding some semblance of a pass rush, so look out for him on the edge against the Lions.
Ogundeji will likely get the nod as the starter opposite Lorenzo Carter. He’s much more reliable anchoring against the run than either of the rookie edge defenders and even possesses a sneaky good long arm pass rush move.
Malone put on significant weight approaching training camp. That extra beef should help him hold up against the NFL’s bigger tackles when defending the run. He’s a maestro of a pass rusher, but his run defense is a questionable area. Look out for how he produces in both phases.
Photographer: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire