53-man roster projection, v1.0

Scott Bair makes his 53-man roster projection. Tori McElhaney analyzes the picks. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Everyone does a 53-man roster projection these days. Often several versions of them. And, yep, we're part of the masses. Y'all love these things, and Tori and I give the people the content they want.

We do things a little different. Tori and I will alternate between making the selections and analyzing them. We've got a rule, too, that we want to deliver them without context or reasoning. (Except, this time, regarding the Tre Flowers convo you'll see below.)

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That's what happened here, where I made the selections for our first installment and T-Mac, well, critiqued them. No off-the-top-rope slams by Tori, and for that I am thankful.

Don't forget that these projections are based on experience and the limited sample size of practices already seen. We, as you'd expect, reserve the right to change our minds several times before the actual 53-man roster cut on Aug. 29.

So here are my picks and Tori's raw reactions to them. Let me know what you think in the mailbag. We haven't done one in a while, and could get one going for Monday.

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Offense

Quarterback (3) | Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside

OK. I am not going to lie: I was really curious why Scott decided to carry Woodside, because I had forgotten about the new quarterback rule. For those who forgot (like I did), the league brought back the emergency quarterback rule. There are a couple notes to this, though. For starters, the signal-caller must be on the 53-man roster and he cannot be called up from the practice squad. However, said third quarterback can only play if the other two QBs (so, in this case, Ridder and Heinicke) were injured or ejected. If either of the two are cleared, the third quarterback must return to the sideline.

So, yes, I understand the logic. At the same time, though, it's still early and we're a long ways away from the actual cut down. For the first version of this article I probably would have only carried two QBs just so I could have another spot elsewhere (perhaps tight end since we know how much Arthur Smith loooooves his tight ends), but alas, I guess I understand.

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Running back (3) | Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson

This is as no-brainer as no-brainers come. I don't even have a rebuttal, because these three are obvious inclusions on the 53-man roster.

Full back (1) | Keith Smith

Keith Smith was brought back on a one-year deal this year for his 10th season in the league. He's been an active member of this team since he came to Atlanta in 2019. That isn't likely to change.

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Tight end (4) | Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, MyCole Pruitt

So, I live by the rule that you should always add one more tight end to your 53-man roster after you've already created it because that's how confident I am that Arthur Smith is always going to find a way to keep as many tight ends as he can. This thought aligns with the one I have now. I honestly think John FitzPatrick makes a strong case to be considered for the 53-man roster.

He's very different from the other tight ends on this list, who all have shown an ability to be a force in the pass game. That's not necessarily FitzPatrick's forte (though he can do it). FitzPatrick is an extension of the offensive line in a way. He's a blocking tight end through and through, and there's the argument for keeping him around considering the way the Falcons like to run the ball. Is that enough to keep him on the 53-man come cut down day? I don't know. But with Arthur Smith as his head coach, it wouldn't be surprising if the Falcons do carry more tight ends than these four.

That, and I joke pretty frequently that Feleipe Franks always seems to find a way on the 53-man roster. Who's to say he's not around come cut down day, too.

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Wide receiver (5) | Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge, Penny Hart

I'm so glad Scott put Penny Hart in this grouping because - as a storyteller - I want to see the full circle moment of Hart taking the field with the Falcons after growing up just outside the city and having gone to school at Georgia State. From a storyline perspective? That's pretty awesome.

But also from the standpoint of roster building, his inclusion here makes sense, too. Along with the fact that he's a skilled punt returner and in the conversation to perhaps get a shot to do so throughout the preseason.

I think a couple sleeper candidates to make the team if the four WRs before Hart are a lock is Zay Malone, Slade Bolden and - of course - Frank Darby, who's been around for two seasons now and in need of a breakthrough in Year 3.

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Offensive line (9) | Jake Matthews, Matt Hennessy, Matt Bergeron, Drew Dalman, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Jalen Mayfield, Ethan Greenridge, Jovaughn Gwyn

The addition of Ethan Greenridge in Scott's selection gave me a little bit of pause, only because I have a few guys who I like on this offensive line a little more. I find it hard to believe with as much as Arthur Smith talks about Ryan Neuzil that he's not on the 53-man roster. I also have liked what I have seen from Kyle Hinton. However, I do think Greenridge's experience may speak to the reason why Scott chose him over others. He's had five years in the league to develop, that's more years than Neuzil or Hinton combined.

One note I have on the addition of Jalen Mayfield is this: I think his move back to tackle has saved him a spot on the initial 53-man roster. I think if Mayfield is still working at guard as much as he was when he was starting there in 2021, perhaps the numbers don't align for him. But since the Falcons moved Mayfield back to his original position of tackle, it gives him a better shot at making the team.

Defense

Defensive line (7) | Grady Jarrett, Calais Campbell, Ta'Quon Graham, David Onyemata, Zach Harrison, Justin Ellis, Timmy Horne

Justin Ellis has been on the team for all of 24 hours and here Scott is putting him on the 53-man roster. Quite the move, sir. But I don't dislike this decision, because the man is a tank. (I do mean this in the nicest way possible, by the way). The Falcons have stated on multiple occasions that a goal of theirs this offseason was to get bigger upfront. Well, you definitely do that if you keep Ellis around.

However, while we're here, someone I'd like to make a case for is Joe Gaziano, who's been playing the Calais Campbell role as Campbell finds himself on the NFI list for a little while. Gaziano's role is a bit different than what I assume that of Ellis' to be, but I don't think that counts him out. It could depend on what the Falcons are looking for with their front as to which direction they go here, but I would be OK if Gaziano finds his way on the 53-man.

However, I'll add this: Take all of this analysis with a grain of salt. I've only seen Ellis once prior to writing this. Campbell is not out on the field yet. And the pads aren't on. All of this could change my thinking in an instant.

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Outside linebacker (4) | Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone

Dang, I see Scott is leaving Ade Ogundeji out of this group? Tough cut. But after noticing how things are shaking out in camp, I'm actually not too terribly surprised. It has seemed Ogundeji has fallen further and further down the depth chart. However, I do think that a couple good performances throughout joint practices and a preseason game or two could change my mind.

I like Ogundeji, perhaps more than Malone in the long run (that is, if we're only carrying four OLBs), but I do need to see more from him. Good thing we'll have that opportunity as the weeks churn on.

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Inside linebacker (4) | Troy Andersen, Kaden Elliss, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman

This group is pretty set in my opinion. However, what is not set right now is the role in which Mykal Walker will play come the start of the season. He's been asked to play a few different roles recently as the coaching staff works to figure out a place for him with Andersen and Elliss established as the starters inside.

When he's not with the second-team (and Landman), he's with the first-team, getting reps in a Sam-like role. How this evolves for Walker will be very interesting to see.

Safety (4) | Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy

And here comes Scott's first cut from the Falcons rookie draft class. He's going with Micah Abernathy over DeMarcco Hellams. Interesting. I think Hellams' true value is on special teams, and we've seen Abernathy right alongside Jaylinn Hawkins and the second-team since the start of camp. So, this is a cut that makes sense in my mind if we're sticking with the aforementioned rotation.

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Cornerback (6) | A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes, Clark Phillips III, Tre Flowers

I have to be honest: When Scott was making his picks in his office directly beside my own, I was really vocal about keeping Tre Flowers. He did say he was going back and forth between Flowers and Cornell Armstrong (who was a camp standout last year and did some good things for the Falcons at times during the season). But with a decision made, I have to say Scott made the right one by my standards. Well, it's the decision I would have made, at least.

I've been really pleased with what I've seen from Flowers so far through Week 1 of camp. I have written this a few times in my practice notes throughout the week, but I really can't overlook Flowers' size. He's long and lanky and has the ability to stand tall alongside a lot of receivers in this league. After Terrell and Okudah, Flowers is the third outside corner in my mind.

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Specialists (3) | Younghoe Koo, Bradley Pinion, Liam McCullough

Good thing Scott didn't cut Younghoe Koo. The fan base would have rioted.

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch during the 2023 AT&T Training Camp.

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