FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have now cut their roster down from 80 to 53 players on Tuesday. This a day no one looks forward to. So many players who have worked day in and day out during training camp and preseason are let go. With there being plenty of depth across the Falcons roster, having to cut any player is a difficult decision.
To re-emphasize Tori’s notes from the final practice before cut-down day, things are going to be very fluid as we move forward. This is only the initial 53-man roster, which means things are going to change by the end of the week.
Let's take a look at the biggest surprise cut, undrafted players who made the roster, draft picks who have been cut and players who have been standouts this summer.
Unheralded players who made the roster
CB Dee Alford
If there is one word to describe Dee Alford, it's relentless. He's showed up every day in training camp and in preseason, making his presence felt in the defensive back room. He went from a second and third-team rotational player at the beginning of camp, to the starting nickel with the first-team by the summer's end. The former Division II standout and CFL All-Star will add even more depth to a position group that includes highly talented with players in A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward. Despite the initial 53-man roster not being final, Alford has earned his spot after a preeminent preseason which has been beneficial to the natural ballhawk.
WR Jared Bernhardt
I would say I'm surprised that Jared Bernhardt earned a spot on the initial 53-man roster, but I'm not. The former Division II quarterback has turned a lot of heads this summer with his recent transition to wide receiver. You can say that the Falcons have found themselves a diamond in the rough. His preseason performance speaks for itself. In the first game, he made the game-winning catch. In the very next game against the Jets, he led all players in receiving yards. Mind you, Bernhardt did not start playing wide receiver until this summer. He's a great asset not only to the receiver room, but his versatility as a player could be beneficial for the Falcons offense overall.
OLB Quinton Bell
After going undrafted last year and finding himself on the Falcons practice squad in 2021, Quinton Bell has made a name for himself this summer in a significant way, particularly on special teams. In the last preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Bell had a blocked punt that set the Falcons up for a touchdown on the very next drive. Like Bell mentioned after the game, special teams is a great way to make the roster, and he has been making the most of his opportunity. With Bell now in the mix, the Falcons have five edge rushers and solid pieces on the back end to work with.
DL Timothy Horne
Timothy Horne making the roster isn't too much of a surprise. The defensive line has taken a few blows throughout training camp with Marlon Davidson suffering from a knee injury that resulted in him not being able to compete in the last two preseason games. Vincent Taylor ruptured his Achilles and veteran Eddie Goldman retired before training camp started so adding Horne to the roster was ideal. This is an area that needs sharpening, so keeping Horne makes the most sense as the Falcons are pushing to build depth at the position.
Camp standouts who made the cut
TE/QB Feleipe Franks
Although Feleipe Franks is listed as quarterback on the roster, he will likely see majority of his reps at the tight end position. We didn't see that much during preseason, but that's nothing to worry about. In training camp, Franks almost looked like he had been playing tight end his entire life. It was a natural fit for him that made sense, one that Arthur Smith has been toying with for the last two years. He has the natural height, speed, and strength. His agility stems from his quarterback acumen that suits him well. It came by no surprise that Franks would make the roster. With there only being two primary quarterbacks in Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder on the roster, having a player like Franks will be beneficial for the Falcons offense.
RB Avery Williams
After Avery Williams made the move from defensive back to running back, his versatility on the field made it a no-brainer to keep him on the roster. And one can't overlook the impact he makes as the Falcons primary return man on special teams. Chances are we'll see him in that same positions come the regular season. This is a smart move for the Falcons.
Biggest Surprise Cut
TE Anthony Firsker
Firsker being cut came as a big surprise being that he's a veteran within the tight end room, along with having played under Arthur Smith during his Tennessee Titans era. He had a solid preseason showing out with four receptions for 81 yards but with Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, John Fitzpatrick and Feleipe Franks in the mix, having five tight ends wasn't possible. With roster cuts being fluid, there is still a chance Firsker could still make the roster or at least the practice squad.
Draft picks cut
WR Frank Darby
Having to cut a player like Darby is difficult. He's a player that can play at a high-level in both the receiver and special teams' position, which would certainly be a huge loss considering what he contributed during preseason. The energy that he brings both on and off the field has been one of one. The Falcons final pick of the 2021 NFL Draft is likely someone who will remain on the practice squad if he doesn't get picked up elsewhere.
OL Justin Shaffer
The offensive line position was pretty loaded with players from last year and with Shaffer drafted late in the sixth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, finding a spot in this position group was going to be tough. Shaffer is a young talent with a ton of potential and we've seen that during his Georgia days and most recently in preseason. With Jalen Mayfield and Elijah Wilkinson locked at the left guard position, it simply came down to that position being congested.
We take a look at the initial 53-man roster for 2022.