After a draft that left many feeling confused, the Falcons are looking to prove the naysayers wrong and get back in the hunt in 2019. Going into the season; every NFL team has position battles. Competition breeds success, and nobody loves a nasty and physical fight more than Dan Quinn.
#2 and #3 Corners
The Falcons let Robert Alford go after a disappointing season and could be doing the same with Trufant if he continues to decline. His leash is longer due to his much more massive cap hit but will tighten as he continues to knock years off his contract. So now the question is, “Who occupies the other corner spots?”
Isaiah Oliver–As a rookie last season, Oliver played in 14 games and started two of them. Isaiah was named the starter in March by Dan Quinn, but that assumes he continues in his development. Oliver’s an unproven product, and after the draft, he has a couple more names that can push him.
Kendall Sheffield–A 4th round selection in this year’s draft, Sheffield will look to come in and earn the spot vacated by Robert Alford. The former Buckeye brings speed to the position — claiming to have run a 4.26 40 during his time in college. Sheffield may begin as a nickel corner but will look to press for the 2nd corner spot if given the opportunity.
Damontae Kazee–Kazee has been a pleasant find for the Falcons. Thrust into a starting role in 2018; he recorded 80 tackles and seven interceptions (tied for most in NFL). If Ricardo Allen returns healthy in his starting position, the Falcons will have to find a capacity for Kazee. He says he wants to play corner, and Dan Quinn has pegged him as an early option to compete for the nickel job. I wouldn’t put anything past the former fifth-round pick out of San Diego State. There could even be situations where Kazee slots in as a roll-down strong safety, or an outside backer to get him in positions to make plays. Regardless, he will play a significant part in the defense next year.
Jordan Miller— Miller is going to be a project for Dan Quinn, but his name deserves to be in the mix. At 6’1″, he has the long frame that Quinn envies in his corners; which allows him to be a menace in press-man. To make it at the NFL level, Miller will have put on weight and work on his physicality as a tackler. Add in the fact that he is best suited to play on the outside; it would be a pleasant surprise to see him have an impact on defense this year.
Both Guard Spots and Right Tackle: Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times last season — the second most of his career. For that reason, the obvious goal of the draft early on was to address the offensive line. The Falcons did that through free agency as well as the draft.
James Carpenter–Carpenter was brought in to start at one of the guard spots. Last season, the former Crimson Tide mauler allowed five sacks, five QB hits, and 13 pressures. Each of those was the lowest amount allowed on the Jets O-line, but that isn’t anything to write home about. The former 1st-round pick will look to supplant himself as the starter at left guard.
Wes Schweitzer–Wes is still a young player. He is also the returning starter. However, that means he was a part of the O-line that got Matt Ryan drilled more often than not. The former sixth-round pick will get a shot to keep his job but will probably serve as a backup.
Chris Lindstrom–Lindstrom was taken 14th overall out of Boston College in this year’s draft. Chris is considered a reach at 14 but is also the best guard in the draft. It would be shocking not to see Lindstrom win one of the guard spots. Look for him on the right side, where he played in college, to start the season.
Jamon Brown–Brown was brought in via free agency before the draft to be the starter at right guard assumedly. At 6’ 4”, 340lbs, Jamon is a monster of a man who moves people. He also played tackle in college, so he brings versatility. Look for him to get a ton of snaps and every opportunity to be the guy but will most likely have to adjust to the left guard position and battle with Carpenter and Schweitzer.
Kaleb McGary–If Lindstrom was considered a reach, imagine what people said about McGary. The 6’ 7”, 317lb former Washington Husky lineman is being brought in to open running lanes and protect Matt Ryan. He is known for his run-blocking prowess and improved as a pass protector in his 3+ years as a starter at Washington. There are concerns about him dealing with speed off the edge, but the Falcons invested their second and third round picks in him — look for McGary to be the starter in week 1.
Ty Sambrailo–Even after signing an extension, Sambrailo is projected to be a backup caliber player. That being said, the former Colorado State Ram was a second-round pick in 2015 by the Denver Broncos and played at the highest level of his career when starting for the Falcons last year. He will have an opportunity to compete for that spot.
The Falcons let Tevin Coleman walk in free agency, so there is a need at running back. His departure, coupled with Freeman’s health-issues, leaves the Birds in a very precarious position. The Falcons are losing over 1,000 all-purpose yards and nine touchdowns with Coleman’s exit. It is imperative they replace that production.
Ito Smith–Smith, a former fourth-round pick was another pleasant surprise for the Falcons in 2018. Ito had 90 carries for 315 yards while also making 27 catches for 152 yards as the primary backup to Tevin Coleman with Freeman injured. The Falcons liked what they saw in Smith, so look for him to have an even more significant role this season.
Qadree Ollison–The former Pitt Panther brings size to the Falcons backfield. The 6’ 2”, 225lb 5th-round pick runs tough and can be seen as a change-of-pace back to the slashing style of Devonta Freeman. For his career, Ollison finished with 529 carries, 2,859 yards, and 29 touchdowns. His thunder in short yardage situations will be a welcomed addition to the backfield. Although, he will have to beat out Ito Smith if he wants to be involved more than that.