FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons have trimmed their roster down to 52 players. Here’s a position-by-position breakdown of Atlanta’s roster as the team begins to get ready for their Week 1 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles in a prime-time game on “Thursday Night Football.”
Let’s start with the offense:
Wide receivers (6): The biggest question regarding the Falcons’ receiver group wasn’t about who would likely earn the roster spots, it was more so about how many the team would keep. The Falcons decided to keep six receivers: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, Justin Hardy, Marvin Hall and Russell Gage. Hall had a strong offseason, showing his value to the group and on special teams as a potential returner. The Falcons are counting on what Gage brings to their special teams group more than anything.
Offensive line (9): One of the few position battles the Falcons had was at right guard. Brandon Fusco beat out Wes Schweitzer for the job after Schweitzer started every game for Atlanta at right guard last season. Fusco signed with the Falcons in free agency this spring. The starting offensive line is made up of the following players: Jake Matthews, Andy Levtire, Alex Mack, Fusco and Ryan Schraeder. Schweitzer and Ben Garland will be the backup guards and Ty Sambrailo and Matt Gono will be the backup tackles.
Tight ends (3): No surprise here, Austin Hooper is the No. 1 option at tight end. Behind him is veteran Logan Paulsen who Atlanta also signed in free agency this year and will be primarily used as a blocking tight end. Then sits Eric Saubert who has made a noticeable to jump from Year 1 to Year 2. All three of these players have the ability to be pass-catching weapons for quarterback Matt Ryan.
Quarterbacks (2): Matt Ryan signed a five-year contract extension this offseason that ensures he stays a Falcon for the foreseeable future. And the Falcons have one of the most reliable backups in the game in Matt Schaub who plays a key role in Ryan’s preparation and gameday adjustments. The newest addition the quarterbacks room is not a player, rather it’s a coach. Greg Knapp was hired this offseason to take over as quarterbacks coach. Knapp, a former offensive coordinator, not only brings his expertise in coaching quarterbacks, he’s also an experienced play-caller. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will be calling plays from the sideline where he is more comfortable this year and a big reason to why he’s able to do that is because of the intel Knapp can provide from the booth.
Running backs (3): The Falcons have one of the best running back tandems in the league in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, who remain the No. 1 and 2 options here. Newcomer Ito Smith checks in at the third running back spot. The Falcons drafted Smith in the fourth round out of Southern Mississippi. Typically, the No. 3 running back on the Falcons’ roster is expected to bring value on special teams and that will likely be the case with Smith.
Fullbacks (1): In addition to right guard and returner, the fullback position was the starting job in question. Ricky Ortiz has won the job after beating out Jalston Fowler.
Now switching to the other side of the ball.
Defensive line (9): Atlanta’s defensive line unit is one of the position groups that has undergone the most changes this offseason. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn and defensive tackle Dontari Poe left via free agency and the team added new players like defensive tackle Terrell McClain and drafted Deadrin Senat. But for the most part, the group was able to keep its core intact. Vic Beasley has switched back to defensive end full time and he and Takkarist McKinley are the starters at defensive end. Grady Jarrett and Terrell McClain are the starters at defensive tackle. McClain is going into his eight season and brings a ton of experience to the group. Behind Jarrett is Jack Crawford, who is now fully healthy after being placed on IR in Week 4 of last season. Brooks Reed and Derrick Shelby have proven to be reliable players for the Falcons, especially in the run game. Justin Zimmer, a college free agent in 2017, earned a spot with the group after spending part of last year playing in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes.
Linebackers (6): Not much has changed at this position with both Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell both only entering their third seasons, but Duke Riley has now earned a spot in the starting lineup. After a rookie season that included a knee injury which required him to get surgery, Riley is a player Quinn has said has made a big jump from his first season to now. Behind Campbell sits rookie Foye Oluokun whom the Falcons drafted in the sixth round out of Yale and impressed in the preseason. Kemal Ishmael and undrafted free agent Dewey Jarvis round out the linebacker group.
Cornerbacks (6): The Falcons locked up their Nos. 1 and 2 cornerbacks last year when they gave both Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford contract extensions. They’re both healthy and look as fast as they’ve ever looked. One of the biggest areas of focus for both of these players this season will be creating more takeaways. Behind Alford and Trufant is Brian Poole and rookie Isaiah Oliver. Poole served as the Falcons’ starting nickel cornerback last year – a role that he thrived in. Oliver, Atlanta’s second-round draft pick out of the University of Colorado, has all of the intangibles Quinn likes in his cornerbacks. He’s got the length and speed to play outside and that’s where he’s been featured most to this point. Justin Bethel was added in free agency this spring and Blidi Wreh-Wilson returns for another year as a quality depth piece for the Falcons.
Safeties (4): The duo of Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal now have two seasons together under their belts. Allen, who recently signed a three-year contract extension, is the quarterback of the defense. While his counterpart Neal, plays a pivotal role in the defense with his ability to run, hit and create turnovers. Damontae Kazee is going into his second season and backs up Allen. Kazee was a star in the preseason, showing he’s made a significant jump from his rookie year. He plays with the physicality the Falcons want on defense and has a knack for the ball, recording an interception in the Falcons’ third preseason game. The Falcons traded with the Patriots for safety Jordan Richards to serve as Neal’s backup.
Special teams (3): Kicker Matt Bryant, punter Matt Bosher and long-snapper Josh Harris are all back and resume their starting roles.