The Falcons are continually tweaking their roster, evident in the flurry of moves this week, including cutting Germain Ifedi and adding a slew of XFL standouts.
That will likely continue until Week 1 because when clubs have to get to a 53-man roster, there will be another wave of additions. Every year teams will wait until June 1 or even later before parting ways with players which will be available to the Falcons via trade or free agency.
But for right now, there isn’t a starting-caliber player walking through the doors at Flowery Branch, giving us a pretty good idea of what the Falcons’ starting lineup will look like. Here’s my projection:
|QB||Desmond Ridder||DE||Calais Campbell|
|RB||Bijan Robinson||DT||Grady Jarrett|
|FB||Keith Smith||DT||David Onyemata|
|WR||Drake London||Edge||Lorenzo Carter|
|TE||Kyle Pitts||LB||Troy Andersen|
|TE||Jonnu Smith||LB||Kaden Elliss|
|LT||Jake Matthews||CB||A.J. Terrell|
|LG||Matthew Bergeron||CB||Mike Hughes|
|C||Drew Dalman||CB||Jeff Okudah|
|RG||Chris Lindstrom||S||Jessie Bates|
|RT||Kaleb McGary||S||Richie Grant|
I will be doing a few of these because 1) they’re fun, and 2) I would like multiple attempts at getting it right.
The offense may seem straightforward, but it isn’t. Yes, you are reading that correctly; I believe the Falcons’ 22 personnel (2 RBs and 2 TEs) will be the most frequently used package of the season. Whether it’s Bijan Robinson and Keith Smith, which I assume will be the pair that start most games, Robinson and Cordarelle Patterson, Patterson and Allgeier, or Robinson and Allgeier… you get the point.
It’s a pretty bold take, but that’s why we are here. Atlanta didn’t acquire Jonnu Smith via trade and make Robinson the highest-drafted running back since Saquon Barkley to use them separately. Add in the fact that Kyle Pitts can practically be used as a wide receiver and the depth behind Drake London is pitiful; you can see one wideout sets becoming the norm.
Now, I could be totally wrong. Another potential starting lineup would be 12 personnel, with Bijan Robinson as the lone running back and Mack Hollins replacing Keith Smith. I still maintain 22 personnel will be the most frequently used package.
The rest of the offense is elementary. Desmond Ridder will be the starter, and Matthew Bergeron is the heavy favorite to assume the starting left guard position, but the defense is challenging for the same reason that the offense is — versatility.
The Falcons brought in a ton of players this offseason that play a positionless brand of football. Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson can lineup in the backfield, slot, and boundary. Kyle Pitts can line up next to the tackle, in the slot, and on the boundary; Drake London can align in the slot or on the boundary, and Jonnu Smith is comfortable in the backfield and next to the tackle. The defense is very similar.
Kaden Elliss will start and play most downs next to Troy Andersen at off-ball linebacker, but on third downs, Ryan Nielsen will use Elliss like a chess piece and line him up all over the defensive front.
The line of scrimmage and secondary are far more challenging to project. The front office bolstered the edge and cornerback room; the depth has improved dramatically, but the top-end talent hasn’t.
Jessie Bates III and Richie Grant will be the starting duo on the backend, and I feel safe in assuming Calais Campbell, Grady Jarrett, and David Onyemata will be the starting three down linemen, but it gets murky after that.
Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Arnold Ebiketie? Who starts? I went with Carter but could easily see it being the former second-round pick in Ebiketie. And at cornerback, don’t assume Jeff Okudah will be the starter. He was had for a fifth-round pick for a reason, and Mike Hughes provides some positional flexibility, so Clark Phillips III can roam the slot with Hughes opposite A.J. Terrell on the boundary. For right now, I went with the more experienced candidates in Hughes and Okudah.
The Falcons will be sure to use plenty of personnel groupings, offensively and defensively.
Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson will likely lead the skill group in snaps, but Tyler Allgeier, Keith Smith, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jonnu Smith will play prominent roles, as well as Scott Miller, Mack Hollins, and Parker Hesse in supplementary roles.
The same goes for the defense. Eddie Goldman could start games as the nose tackle but won’t out-snap Grady Jarrett, Calais Campbell, Ta’Quon Graham, or David Onyemata. The defensive front will be fluid, shifting between odd and even fronts, allowing Ryan Nielsen to remain flexible in defending offenses.
Some game plans will call for a 2-4-5 or a 3-3-5, while others might require a more traditional 4-3 or 3-4. Today’s defenses are all about being able to stop the run with light boxes. The Falcons have the personnel to do so.
This was just my best guess at the starting lineups for Week 1, and it isn’t perfect, so give me your projected starting lineup.
Photographer: John Byrum/Icon Sportswire
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