FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Well, the preseason has officially come to an end. The Falcons have three more practices to go before initial 53-man roster cuts are made on Tuesday, and Arthur Smith's expectation of this being a difficult 53-man roster to make has come to pass.
The Falcons head coach said after the Falcons third and final preseason game on Thursday night that decision-makers have some "tough" cuts ahead as they bring the roster to 53 men. It has to be done, though, and Scott Bair and Tori McElhaney are here to share their thoughts about who could make said initial roster.
A month ago, Scott and Tori wrote their first version of their 53-man roster projection. In the article, Scott shared his 53-man roster projection while Tori analyzed his decisions. This time, they switch roles, with Tori making her picks and Scott analyzing her decisions. If you want to see their last 53-man roster projection, you can view it here.
With four days to go until official cuts are made, let's take a look at the second version of our 53-man roster projection.
Quarterback (2) | Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke
Tough cut: Logan Woodside
Scott's take: We're on the first position group and Tori and I already disagree. That'll make for some good content. Ha. I had Logan Woodside making the 53-man roster in my projection way back when. I stand by it. I think Arthur Smith will take advantage of a new rule where a third quarterback on the active roster can be ruled inactive but enter a game if the first two passers go down. I also think Woodside has earned it, prompting the Falcons to go with an additional layer of security at the game's most important position and keep Woodside on the 53-man. I can understand why Tori would want a spot for another position group, but Woodside stays. That's what I think, anyway.
Running back (3) | Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson
Tough cut: Godwin Igwebuike
Scott's take: Godwin Igwebuike has had a solid preseason. The guy runs hard, plays physical, can pass protect and is a good special teams player. I just don't see how he makes it with three stone-cold locks at the position. I also don't see how they keep four runners, especially with Keith Smith on the squad as a fullback. Maybe Igwebuike earns a practice squad spot or has put enough good tape out there to earn a spot somewhere else. He's certainly deserving.
Fullback (1) | Keith Smith
Scott's take: The Falcons will keep a true fullback even though Jonnu Smith can play the position as well. Keith Smith is good at his job and is a core special teams player. He sticks. For sure.
Wide receiver (6) | Drake London, Mack Hollins, KhaDarel Hodge, Scotty Miller, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Josh Ali
Tough cuts: Penny Hart, Zay Malone, Keilahn Harris
Scott's take: One note about this roster projection: Tori offers zero context about her picks. I tend to think the Falcons will keep five receivers but, if I'm reading her mind right, this could be the grouping for the initial 53-man roster with a caveat. If KhaDarel Hodge has to go on IR for a short term – I don't know if that's the case, but it might be a possibility -- then they have five in-house and not exposed to waivers. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has impressed me down the stretch and Josh Ali is a versatile player who can help on special teams. If Hodge stays on the active roster, then Ali's my first to go. Also, I like how Zay Malone worked this summer and believe he should end up on the practice squad.
Tight end (4) | Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, MyCole Pruitt, John FitzPatrick
Tough cut: Parker Hesse
Scott's take: When you talk about tough cuts, what Tori just did must be excruciating. She's the president of the "Hesse Hive," a group of us who love how Parker Hesse plays. I, too, am a card-carrying member. All that said, I agree with her projection. John FitzPatrick is younger and has greater upside, in my opinion, while performing similar tasks.
Offensive line (9) | Jake Matthews, Matthew Bergeron, Drew Dalman, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary, Josh Miles, Jonotthan Harrison, Ryan Neuzil, Kyle Hinton
Tough cut: Jalen Mayfield
Scott's take: I think the number of lineman and those Tori selected are right on. Jonotthan Harrison and Ryan Neuzil have versatility on the interior and Josh Miles was the best of the options to be a swing tackle. I know Jalen Mayfield is a 2021 third-round pick, but I just don't think he earned it. And while this may be the group on the initial 53-man roster, my gut says the Falcons scour the open market for a swing tackle. They need more security there.
Defensive line (8) | Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Ta'Quon Graham, Joe Gaziano, Zach Harrison, Timmy Horne, Albert Huggins
Tough cuts: Carlos Davis, Justin Ellis
Scott's take: I don't think I would keep this many defensive lineman, especially when there are often just three of them on the field at once. Seven sounds like a better number, meaning I would take Timmy Horne or Joe Gaziano off the list. These are tough decisions, though, because the line is deep and the Falcons need a solid rotation up front to play the type of defense they want to play. Lots of defensive linemen have stood out this camp. Paring that position group is going to be difficult.
Outside linebacker (3) | Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Arnold Ebiketie
Tough cut: DeAngelo Malone
Scott's take: I can see Tori's logic here. Clear as day. Keep the three main contributors at the position and rotate them while keeping more deserving linemen available. I'm also not sure that DeAngelo Malone is a perfect fit for this defensive scheme, but he was a third-round pick last year and is a solid special teams contributor. Are they willing to let him go at this stage? Do the Falcons want to continue developing him on the active roster? Could they get him to the practice squad? That's possible, too, and he could get promoted if there's an injury issue at the position.
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Inside linebacker (4) | Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen, Nate Landman, Tae Davis
Tough cut: Mike Jones Jr.
Scott's take: This is a good group. Nate Landman has developed into a solid third off-the-ball linebacker behind Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen, a pair of three-down players. Tae Davis is super active on special teams, too, and is a solid tackler. Mike Jones has showed well on game days, but not well enough to unseat this core four.
Cornerbacks (6) | A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Dee Alford, Mike Hughes, Tre Flowers, Clark Phillips III
Tough cuts: Darren Hall, Breon Borders, Cornell Armstrong
Scott's take: This is the toughest group to evaluate. Not even close. Why? There are way more roster-worthy cornerbacks than there are spots available. No doubt. I'd bet more than one cut gets picked up off waivers, too. Tori's group is sound, though, even after Breon Borders and Darren Hall concluded strong preseasons. We could see some unbalanced numbers on the initial 53-man roster if the Falcons intend to put Jeff Okudah or Mike Hughes on IR for a short term – again, we don't know if that's the case – but Tori has formed a solid group here that should perform well on Sundays.
Safeties (4) | Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, DeMarcco Hellams
Tough cut: Micah Abernathy
Scott's take: Talk about a tough, tough cut. Leaving Micah Abernathy off the roster is a difficult thing. Great guy. Talented player. Theoretically doing that to DeMarcco Hellams would fall in the same category. But I just can't see the Falcons keeping five safeties, even with special teams as a factor. Especially with the crunch felt at cornerback and on the defensive line.
Specialists (3) | Younghoe Koo, Bradley Pinion, Liam McCullough
Scott's take: Well, yeah.
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