Falcons position battles: Four intriguing ones to watch following the draft

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With the 2019 NFL Draft in the books, it’s time to take a closer look at the Falcons’ roster, specifically some of the position groups.

The Falcons have vastly upgraded their offensive line this offseason through the draft and free agency. Atlanta has also added some key depth pieces at several other positions where the competition will be in full swing come training camp.

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Based off the draft additions, here are some of the most intriguing position battles to watch this offseason:

Cornerback

Coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff knew they needed more depth at the cornerback. So, when the time came, they didn’t just draft one and check the box, they selected two: Kendall Sheffield in the fourth round and Jordan Miller in the fifth round. Neither Sheffield nor Miller will be expected to start with Desmond Trufant and Isaiah Oliver in place, but the battle for the No. 3 spot should be an intense one. Sheffield and Miller bring different styles to the group, something Dan Quinn likes. Sheffield’s biggest strength is his speed where Miller’s is his length and ability to make plays on the ball. Blidi Wreh-Wilson will also be in the mix as he’s improved each year he’s been with the Falcons. Wreh-Wilson saw action in three games for the Falcons last season. Then there’s Damontae Kazee who’s expected to be Atlanta’s nickel cornerback after spending the majority of last year starting at free safety.

Running back

Atlanta’s No. 1 option at running back was never in question heading into the draft. A healthy Devonta Freeman will be back in the lineup with Ito Smith backing him up in his second season. Smith proved he was more than capable of making an impact when his reps increased the moment Freeman was placed on injured reserve in October.  He finished his rookie season with 315 yards on 90 carries and four touchdowns. Atlanta drafted Qadree Ollison in the fifth round in hopes to get the power back they’ve long been in need of. He’ll compete with Smith for the No. 2 running back spot. The Falcons also added Kenjon Barner this offseason in free agency. Brian Hill remains on the roster as well and is someone who showed flashes of promise in the 2018 season. The Falcons also recently signed former Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James following rookie minicamp.

Offensive line

The No. 1 priority for the Falcons this offseason was to bolster the offensive line. Not only did the Falcons continue to address the guard position with the selection of Chris Lindstrom with the No. 14 overall pick, they also took care of the right tackle spot when they traded back into the first round to acquire Kaleb McGary. Atlanta re-signed Ty Sambrailo to a three-year extension this offseason and he’ll compete with McGary for the starting right tackle spot. Guards Jamon Brown and James Carpenter were the Falcons’ two biggest offseason acquisitions in free agency, with Brown, Carpenter and Lindstrom all expected to compete for the two starting spots. The only two sure bets at this point on Atlanta’s offensive line in terms of who will start are center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews.

Kick/punt returner

Will it be Marcus Green, Atlanta’s sixth-round draft pick who specializes in returning? Or will Kendall Sheffield and his blazing speed surprise new special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica and earn the job? There’s also Barner who has the experience Green and Sheffield don’t have yet. Justin Hardy was also re-signed this offseason and certainly showed he’s a reliable option last year. Regardless, Atlanta’s kick/punt returner spot is wide open at this point.

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