The Atlanta Falcons unveiled a 52-man roster on Saturday (kicker Matt Bryant agreed to terms, but has not yet signed) and, like every team’s initial roster announcement, there were a few surprises. AtlantaFalcons.com’s Matt Tabeek, Kelsey Conway and Will McFadden share their thoughts and reactions.
What was the most surprising move, either a player making the team or not?
Tabeek: There were a couple of surprises for me when I saw the initial roster. Seeing five running backs and a fullback obviously jumps out. I thought because of Luke Stocker’s versatility to line up in the backfield and play fullback – plus seeing Qadree Ollison line up there against the Jaguars on Thursday night might affect Ricky Ortiz. The two other additions that surprised me in a good way were tight end Jaeden Graham and receiver Olamide Zaccheaus. I think they’re both very good young players with high ceilings.
Conway: Jaeden Graham making the team was the most surprising move to me. He obviously impressed in the preseason, but I didn't know what the team would do with Logan Paulsen given he was on the roster last season. Clearly, they like what Graham can do in the passing game and as a blocker and that's why he earned the No. 3 tight end spot.
McFadden: My biggest surprise doesn't involve a single player but rather the decision to carry only six receivers. Obviously, with six backs making the roster the team had to make some tough decisions elsewhere, receiver likely being one of those positions. There were plenty of receivers with the Falcons who looked like capable NFL receivers, though, and It's possible some members of this deep group come back on the practice squad.
Is there one position group that stands out to you? Why?
Tabeek: I think the one position group that stands out most to me is the offensive line. Four of the nine players there are new faces from a year ago – free-agent signees James Carpenter and Jamon Brown plus first-round picks Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. That also means that we could potentially see up to three new starters up front at some point, too. And if Carpenter, Lindstrom and McGary all end up starting at some point with Jake Matthews and Alex Mack, the Falcons could have five first-round draft picks all starting up front – and I’m pretty sure that’s never happened before in NFL history. How cool is that?
Conway: The linebackers because of the depth they have. Every player in that position room has been around the team for a while now and they know the system. I think Deion Jones and De'Vondre Campbell will both have good seasons and the development of Foye Oluokun has been impressive. Behind those three, you have two players in Duke Riley and Jermaine Grace who could be plugged in at any time and be able to execute what's necessary.
McFadden: The entire defensive line rotation stands out to me, and it's a group I'm completely fascinated with. Without making any splashy moves this offseason, the Falcons have really re-structured a unit with both depth and versatility. The additions of defensive tackle Tyeler Davison and defensive end Adrian Clayborn are among the most impactful this offseason, and coach Dan Quinn will have a handful of guys who can play at multiple spots on the defensive line. Vic Beasley and Takk McKinley still need to produce for this unit to reach its peak, but this group is underrated heading into 2019.
When you look at the roster as a whole, what's the biggest question mark?
Tabeek: I’m going with the cornerbacks here and it’s mainly because the Falcons are so young. And that’s not a bad thing if second-year corner Isaiah Oliver continues to improve and the two rookies the Falcons drafted in April – Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller – continue to develop. While experience is always a good thing (especially when teams are in the postseason), I’ll take talent any day over it. For now, though, those young Falcons have to prove they can do it – and it’ll take some on-the-job learning.
Conway: Cornerback. There's a lot of questions to be answered here at this point. Will Oliver shine in his expanded role as a starter? Are the rookies Kendall Sheffield and Jordan Miller ready if their number is called? Is Blidi Wreh-Wilson capable of being a starter if an injury took place? What can we expect from Desmond Trufant this year? All of those are questions I have at this point. I do like the depth the Falcons have here, it's just a matter of experience is where my questions begin.
McFadden: I agree that it will be interesting to see how this cornerback group performs, but I'm going to go with what will probably be a surprising choice: The running backs. Hear me out for a second. Yes, I think this is a really deep group with some interesting young players. But Devonta Freeman does have an injury history and the Falcons no longer have a proven safety blanket in Tevin Coleman. I like the potential that Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Qadree Ollison have, but I don't know if any of them can step into a starting role if needed.
The Falcons' 2019 roster is constantly evolving and we've amassed all the players in one gallery that will be updated throughout the year.