Brandon Wilds has been an Atlanta Falcon since April 30, but as a rookie who didn't hear his named called at the 2016 NFL Draft, he went through minicamp, OTAs and most of training camp with a sense that he might not quite belong.
That changed during the first half of Atlanta's preseason opener. With 8:53 remaining in the second quarter, Wilds took a handoff from Matt Schaub, put his head down and rumbled into the end zone to score his first professional touchdown. He listened to the Georgia Dome crowd cheer as he pushed through a swarm of lineman and past the goal line. He saw large red flags carried across the turf in celebration.
And as he soaked in the moment, he felt like someone who, for the first time, deserved to wear the red and black.
"After scoring a TD, it was like, 'Welcome to the NFL,'" Wilds, who finished the night with 10 rushes for 26 yards, said with a smile. "It was a great feeling."
Wilds is currently in the middle of a heated competition at running back: a position where the Falcons have a lot of talent ready to fill a limited number of spots. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will each be featured in a big way; beyond them, however, the depth chart remains unclear.
Terron Ward, another college free agent signing, is in the mix after assuming the No. 3 RB role last year. But he suffered an ankle injury last week, which has opened the door for Wilds, Cyrus Gray and Gus Johnson — all of whom know they have to perform well as roster cuts begin.
Wilds got more carries than anyone else against Washington — a sign the coaches have been pleased with his efforts thus far — but he did fumble the ball away in the fourth quarter. To separate himself from the pack, he knows he has to clean up some areas of his game and build on his debut.
"It's a great competition," Wilds said. "Freeman, Coleman, Ward, all those guys, Gus Johnson, they only push me to make me better. Just being around those guys and working with those guys every single day can only push you to your top potential."
Standing at 6-foot-2 with a muscular frame, Wilds is the biggest of the bunch. He believes that size, along with a pair of reliable hands, can help him endure the NFL grind and stand out as a pass-catcher. He thinks it can help him on special teams, too, which he considers "every rookie's job."
If he can chip in on punts and kickoffs, avoid more turnovers and continue to produce in the running game, he could be the latest in a long line of undrafted players to make an impact in Atlanta.
"For him, ball security is for sure a factor," head coach Dan Quinn said. "We put one down. We've seen him be a very strong runner, and he has ability on special teams. He's over 225 pounds so he can cover kicks as well. That's going to be a factor for him. With Terron Ward going down, the opportunity for him is here, and he's taking advantage of it."