The Falcons have been in training camp almost four weeks now. They have practiced 18 times, including two productive joint practices with Miami. We've seen every snap of those sessions, save a few closed walk-throughs, and eight quarters of preseason football.
Even with all that evaluation time and information to sift through, there were still some tough choices. Battles for some roster spots are really that close. Arthur Smith, Terry Fontenot and their staffs have some difficult decisions ahead. And sometimes it's not picking between one offensive tackle and another. There's overall roster construction, position group balance and special teams to think about. This wasn't a fun experience. I'm a bit of an overthinker, so these exercises can fray nerves.
After careful consideration, I think we've landed on what could be a competitive Falcons roster, and we'll unveil it over two days. The offense goes first, with the defense and specialists (punters are people, too!!) on Tuesday morning. Let's get to it:
Falcons projected offense
This group changed with Saturday's events. Losing AJ McCarron for the season was a blow. Despite a subpar preseason showing and some so-so practices, he seemed set on the No. 2 job. His experience in the role made McCarron a logical choice over Franks, an undrafted rookie who could've ended up developing on the practice squad. The Falcons will be perusing the quarterback market, and a new player could end up as the backup. Time will tell on that front.
Running backs (5)
Most of these spots have been set when training camp began. Davis is the alpha. Patterson can do so many different things working out of the backfield, and he's an elite kick returner. Smith is an excellent special teams player and is adept playing a traditional fullback role. Ollison could be a solid reserve or earn significant carries. Huntley's in a tight competition with Javian Hawkins and D'Onta Foreman, and while he isn't anywhere close to a slam dunk at this stage, he's a strong and efficient runner going back to his Ball State days. Pass protection and special teams will play a major role here in whomever the Falcons pick for a fifth running back spot.
Ridley, Gage and Zaccheaus have long seemed destined for the roster, the first two being mortal locks. Sharpe has emerged with the Falcons and is earning his spot. The fifth receiver job, however, was a tough one. I believe the coaches really like Blake and want him on the squad. I also believe they really like Chris Rowland. He's a tough skill player who works hard and makes a lot of plays. He's also a capable return man. I went back and forth a long time on this one but, with Patterson and (spoiler alert for Tuesday's defensive projection) Avery Williams as quality return options, I went with Blake. I didn't see a need to a sixth wideout, considering Patterson can play receiver and Kyle Pitts should play out wide a ton.
Tight ends (4)
This is a strong, versatile position group. Pitts and Hurst can do so much so well and will move around the formation. Smith is a quality blocking, in-line tight end and locker-room leader. Jaeden Graham was the frontrunner for the fourth tight end spot until he suffered a season-ending knew injury. Raine can contribute in several ways, including on special teams, and can add to the tight-end dynamic. Head coach Arthur Smith likes to use multiple tight ends, and while nobody can duplicate Pitts' role, having depth here is essential.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins in the second preseason game of 2021.
Offensive line (9)
The Falcons need stability in the starting five with versatility in reserve. They've got that with this nine-man group. They have two reserve interior linemen in Mayfield and Dalman, who can also play center, though they'll challenge Andrews at left guard. Having two backup tackles in Beavers and Spriggs is important. Keeping nine may seem like a lot, even if one is inactive on game day, but depth is key up front. They have it here, with a starter and reserve for most every situation.