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Analysis: What to make of Falcons initial 53-man roster

Tori McElhaney takes a look at the Falcons 53-man roster, and provides insight into the decisions made on Tuesday. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons initial 53-man roster has arrived. In case you haven't seen it, Terrin Waack put it together for you in one, organized spot, and we suggest pulling it up as you peruse this article breaking down some of the key points of the roster itself.

In the offseason, head coach Arthur Smith said he expected this initial 53-man roster to be a difficult one to make. Months removed from that statement, we can look at the roster now and see how this proclamation evolved.

There's a lot to make of this roster (one that, yes, will fluctuate week in and week out when considering practice squad elevations and players moving on and off injured reserve and any other transaction you can think of). Let's break it down.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Logan Woodside #11

Falcons keep three quarterbacks

It's important that you know the league made a change this offseason that greatly impacts the usage of the quarterback position on the initial 53-man roster. Essentially, it's the emergency quarterback rule.

In essence, this rule states that a team can carry an emergency quarterback on game days that will not count towards the team's active 46-man game day roster.

The catch is that the emergency quarterback has to be on the active 53-man roster. A quarterback who is elevated from the practice squad is not eligible for this designation.

Also of note: The emergency quarterback will not be allowed into a game unless the two active quarterbacks are injured or disqualified . He would have to be removed from the game if either quarterback is cleared to return.

With this new wrinkle in the rules, the Falcons have chosen to keep QB Logan Woodside on the initial 53-man roster. It could be argued that Woodside actually did enough to earn a spot on the roster out right, though, even without the rule in place.

Woodside joined the Falcons last season when Marcus Mariota was placed on injured reserve and current starting QB Desmond Ridder started the final four games of the 2022 season. Woodside has a history with head coach Arthur Smith, having crossed paths with Smith when he was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee. Woodside got in a lot of game day work in the 2023 preseason, having played significant offensive snaps in all three of the Falcons preseason games.

He finished those three games going 42 of 60 through the air with 400 passing yards. Woodside did not have a touchdown pass, nor an interception in those games. The Falcons had a 9.5 yards per catch average with Woodside in the pocket.


Atlanta continues to part ways with former draft picks (for the time being, at least)

For the last two years, the Falcons had to greatly rely on draft picks to fill out their depth. After having more money to spend in the offseason, that's not as exceptional of a case in 2023 as it was before.

The Falcons previously released OL Jalen Mayfield over the weekend. He was a third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and made 16 starts at left guard in that year. The Falcons also waived/injured WR Frank Darby during training camp, before waiving him via injury settlement. Darby was another 2021 draft selection.

The list of former draft picks now off the active roster grew on Tuesday: CB Darren Hall and OL Justin Shaffer were waived as well. With Avery Williams and Ade Ogundeji already on injured reserve and out for the year, the Falcons class of former draft picks has gotten smaller, even while growing with the inclusion of this year's entire draft class. This does not mean we never see any of these guys back on the Falcons practice squad again at some point. It just means they have been picked over in the meantime.

Hall's departure from the Falcons initial active roster is the most noteworthy. The Falcons drafted Hall in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft with the 108th overall pick. In the last two seasons, Hall has seen action in 31 games, making 10 starts (nine of which came last year when the Falcons depth at cornerback was tested with injuries to Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell). According to Pro Football Reference, Hall had 72 combined tackles (three for a loss), one forced fumble, one sack and six passes defended in the last two years.

However, throughout the 2023 training camp, Hall never quite seemed to move up the Falcons depth chart. Even when CB Jeff Okudah injured his ankle early in camp, the Falcons had CB Tre Flowers move into the would-be starting spot. Though Hall did get a couple second-team reps, by the Falcons final preseason game, Atlanta was deploying DB Breon Borders and DB Natrone Brooks ahead of Hall at outside cornerback. Neither Borders and Brooks made the Falcons initial 53-man roster, either.

DeMarcco Hellams earns a spot

One of the most intriguing decisions the Falcons had prior to Tuesday was what to do with S DeMarcco Hellams.

At the start of camp, it felt as though Hellams had an uphill battle to fight to make the Falcons initial 53-man roster because it looked like Atlanta already had their locks in at safety. You knew from the jump that Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins would make the active roster, barring any crazy development. That realistically left one spot up for grabs, but early, it seemed like that spot was reserved for S Micah Abernathy, who spent the vast majority of camp working with the second-team with Hawkins.

Hellams didn't go quietly, though, and made the most of his opportunities in the preseason. So much so that he played his way onto this initial 53-man roster.

A seventh-round pick in the most recent draft, Hellams was a significant contributor in the preseason. Having played more in three games than just about any individual Falcons player, Hellams had a pick in the first two preseason games and was a top-tackler in all three contests, too.

The rookie from Alabama was one of the most intriguing standouts of the Falcons preseason, ultimately earning a spot on this initial 53-man roster.


Parker Hesse hits waivers

This probably isn't the end of the road for TE Parker Hesse. He's someone this coaching staff really likes. He's also someone who has shown up for the Falcons in depth time and time again.

In the last two years with the Falcons, Hesse has seen action in 25 games, making eight starts. A lot of his production came in 2022, when TE Kyle Pitts suffered a season-ending knee injury. Hesse started seven games last year. He had nine catches for 89 yards, six of his nine catches were for first-down completions.

The decision regarding which tight ends were going to make this initial 53-man roster was going to come down to Hesse and TE John FitzPatrick, the latter having spent majority of the 2022 season on injured reserve. With Pitts, Jonnu Smith and MyCole Pruitt feeling like locks, a fourth spot was up for grabs.

In theory, when making this decision, it is probably easier for Hesse to pass through waivers than it is for FitzPatrick, who -- despite being a seventh-round pick in 2022 -- could be seen as a hotter commodity for tight end hungry teams. If that's the case, it adds a little hypothetical context the move.

Hesse and FitzPatrick ended the preseason with a similar stat line. Though FitzPatrick did not play in the Falcons' first preseason game in Miami, both FitzPatrick and Hesse were targeted seven times in the preseason. FitzPatrick had three catches for 35 yards. Hesse had five catches for 30 yards.

Again, this may not be the end of the line for Hesse, who could find his way on the Falcons practice squad. Other players who were waived or released on Tuesday who could make a return to the practice squad in Atlanta could include WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR Zay Malone, DL Timmy Horne and RB Godwin Igwebuike.

We take a look at the players on the current 53-man roster for the 2023 Atlanta Falcons, sponsored by Veepio.

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