FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – When the Falcons run out onto Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia next Thursday night, they'll look strikingly familiar to the 2017 version.
How familiar? Nineteen of 22 starters are back in the Black and Red for 2018. And that's not only a good thing, but it's rare in today's ever-changing NFL where the average career length is about 3.3 seasons, according to the NFL Players Association. On offense, every starter from last season is back except for fullback Derrick Coleman. And on defense, the only two voids filled from last season's top-10 unit were defensive tackle Donatri Poe and defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
Ricky Ortiz, a first-year player out of Oregon State who spent portions of last season on the Ravens practice squad, won the fullback job with a strong showing in the first three preseason games.
Terrell McClain, an eighth-year player and free-agent signee, replaces Poe up front on defense. Throughout the preseason, veteran Jack Crawford and rookie Deadrin Senat served as the primary backups at defensive tackle to McClain and Grady Jarrett.
Vic Beasley, who returned to defensive end full time, and second-year player Takk McKinley will be the starting edge rushers in 2018. Those two will be backed up by veterans Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby.
There is a total of 15 new players on this 2018 roster – players who were not on last year's roster. Here's a list of those players (listed by position):
- RB Ito Smith
- FB Ricky Ortiz
- WR Russell Gage
- WR Calvin Ridley
- TE Logan Paulsen
- G Brandon Fusco
- T Matt Gono
- DE Terrell McClain
- DT Justin Zimmer
- DT Deadrin Senat
- LB Richard Jarvis
- LB Foyesade Oluokun
- CB Justin Bethel
- CB Isaiah Oliver
- S Jordan Richards
Also noteworthy is the fact that there is a total of eight rookies on this team, including all six draft picks. They are (in no specific order) Smith, Gage, Ridley, Gono, Senat, Jarvis, Oluokun, and Oliver.
Gono and Jarvis are clearly two players that would've been considered long shots to make the active roster when the Falcons kicked off training camp in late July. Gono, a product of Division III Wesley College in Delaware, is a player who the Falcons scouting department "really beat the bushes on him" and has a lot of traits the team covets, general manager Thomas Dimitroff said on Saturday afternoon.