The Falcons are set to face the Jaguars this Saturday in their final preseason game before gearing up for the regular-season opener against the Saints. However, the front office will have to trim the roster to 53 players before that. Plenty of exciting position battles have to work themselves out prior to then too. The most notable being the starting center battle between Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy, but a slew of battles are taking place down the depth chart that could result in one of the new regime’s draft picks not making the roster.
For reference, below are Terry Fontenot’s two draft classes.
2022 Draft Class
- 1st round, No. 8 overall pick: WR Drake London
- 2nd round, No. 38 overall pick: OLB Arnold Ebiketie
- 2nd round, No. 58 overall pick: LB Troy Andersen
- 3rd round, No. 74 overall pick: QB Desmond Ridder
- 3rd round, No. 82 overall pick: OLB DeAngelo Malone
- 5th round, No. 151 overall pick: RB Tyler Allgeier
- 6th round, No. 190 overall pick: OL Justin Shaffer
- 6th round, No. 213 overall pick: TE John FitzPatrick
2021 Draft Class
- 1st round, No. 4 overall pick: TE Kyle Pitts
- 2nd round, No. 40 overall pick: S Richie Grant
- 3rd round, No. 68 overall pick: Jalen Mayfield
- 4th round, No. 108 overall pick: CB Darren Hall
- 4th round, No. 114 overall pick: C Drew Dalman
- 5th round, No. 148 overall pick: Ta’Quon Graham
- 5th round, No. 182 overall pick: Adetokunbo Ogundeji
- 5th round, No. 183 overall pick: PR/KR/CB/RB Avery Williams
- 6th round, No. 187 overall pick: WR Frank Darby
To me, a few draft picks are in danger of not making the final 53-man roster. At wide receiver, Darby is competing with Damiere Byrd, Jared Bernhardt, Stanley Berryhill, Cameron Batson, and KeeSean Johnson for what could be one or two roster spots. In reality, it’s likely a three-man battle between Darby, Byrd, and Bernhardt. The Falcons’ sixth-round pick from a year ago has done little in terms of on-field production, but Darby is certainly a firecracker and positive influence in the locker room.
However, Bernhardt has made it nearly impossible for the team to keep him off the roster. He’s shown up in bunches, recording three receptions for 67 yards in the team’s loss to the Jets, and he also hauled in the go-ahead touchdown the week prior against the Lions. Darby’s lack of production could result in a practice squad stint.
At tight end, John FitzPatrick will be competing with Parker Hesse and MyCole Pruitt for what could only be one roster spot if the team keeps Feleipe Franks on the active roster. Pruitt had a great showing against the Jets, but it all depends on the Falcons’ preference for the last tight end on the roster. It’ll likely be the best blocker, which could be any of them at this point.
Last but not least, the offensive line should be interesting. Two draft picks could be in danger of losing their roster spots — Justin Shaffer and Jalen Mayfield. Shaffer is a rookie, so the uninspiring performance against the Jets will likely be overlooked. However, the same cannot be said for Mayfield, whose struggles have been well-documented.
After being forced into action as a rookie, it’s been nothing but rough outings for the former Michigan Wolverine. The Falcons elected to start Elijah Wilkinson for both preseason matchups thus far, but even with the second-team offense against backups, Mayfield hasn’t been encouraging.
Contrary to popular belief, Mayfield was actually decent in limited action in the Falcons preseason opener against the Lions, but he still looked just alright against a lousy team’s backups. Vying for a starting position, Mayfield needs to be dominating reserve players. Instead, he looked average. That’s not going to be good enough.
It was even worse against the Jets last night. Mayfield again ran with the second-team offense and had several miscues in pass protection, along with penalties in the red zone, which kept the Falcons from scoring touchdowns. There really isn’t much he’s done to inspire confidence that he can one day become a viable starting option in Atlanta.
If I had to guess, I think Darby is the most in danger of losing his roster spot because finding receivers to play special teams isn’t challenging. And at this point, Bernhardt has shown more promise as a receiver.
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