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Bubble Watch: Which Falcons pass catchers have built the strongest case to make the initial 53-man roster? 

Tori McElhaney and Terrin Waack zero in on five players they're interested in after the Falcons-Bengals tie Friday night. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Seven days ago, the first of the Bubble Watch articles popped up on your feed. At that point, Scott Bair and I (greetings, 'tis Tori) picked out five players whose stock we thought rose after the Falcons' first preseason game in Miami.

In that article, I chose to write about players like safeties DeMarcco Hellams and Breon Borders. Scott called dibs on two guys in the trenches: OL Jalen Mayfield and DL Joe Gaziano. Now, here comes a new list of players on the bubble who we're interested in after the Falcons' second preseason game against the Bengals.

Outside of the added context of the tie with the Bengals, the only difference in this article is the addition of a new list of players. That, and Terrin Waack is making a few picks of her own for this list. So, without further ado, the Tori/Terrin Power Hour begins.

(Editorial inclusion: If it takes you an hour to read this, there's either something wrong with us, or with you).


WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

I have been intrigued by Arcega-Whiteside since the Falcons had him try out during rookie minicamp. He caught my eye from the first day of that week. He was crisp on his cuts despite his thickness in size (because yes, he is a stout receiver). Arcega-Whiteside was intriguing then because his build is quite different from some of the other receivers on this Falcons 90-man roster. He's not small and speedy like Zay Malone or Penny Hart or Scotty Miller. He's not long and lanky like Drake London and Mack Hollins.

Arcega-Whiteside could be confused with a pass-catching tight end if you weren't careful. I even pointed out in my Friday postgame story that the Eagles even thought about moving him to tight end in the 2022 offseason before releasing him. He has that kind of build, which fits well inside Arthur Smith's "positionless" scheme where he'd rather not distinguish in press conferences the differences in his skill guys and his wide receiver corp considering players like Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson can be as much of a vertical threat as anyone. But I digress...

Arcega-Whiteside finished Friday night's game with 39 receiving yards on two catches. One of said catches set up the Falcons' lone touchdown of the day, with Arcega-Whiteside stretching for the pylon for what was originally called a touchdown before a review put him a yard short of the end zone.

When it comes to 53-man roster construction, if someone like Arcega-Whiteside can show a knack for making plays and being trustworthy with the ball in his hands, perhaps there's a spot for him in a room that should include London, Hollins and KhaDarel Hodge. --TM

S DeMarcco Hellams

OK. I confess: I lied to you. I said you would get a list of new players, and then I went and included someone who I wrote about last week. I apologize for leading you astray, but I don't apologize for including Hellams in this list. He deserves to be here.

There is no one I feel like I have written about more in the preseason than that of Hellams. One of the Falcons' two most recent seventh-round draft picks has made plays left and right throughout the first two preseason games. Though he didn't play as much Friday as he did last week in Miami, the safety still made the most of his opportunities. He earned his second interception of the preseason, jumping a route in the fourth quarter of the Falcons' game against the Bengals. It goes along with the play he made in the end zone in Miami.

Hellams has shown a skill set that the Falcons covet in the secondary: finding a way to get his hands on the ball. But something I think goes overlooked in Hellams' wheelhouse is his tackling ability. When Hellams makes a tackle, he lays down the hammer. He's a physical safety and has been for years. When asked about Hellams after the last two games, Smith has said the same thing: The Hellams this staff sees playing right now is the same guy the group saw playing at Alabama. What Hellams is showing the coaching staff while playing in the league is what actually got him here. Is what he's doing enough to warrant him a spot on this initial 53-man roster? It's starting to feel more and more likely the more plays he makes.

The problem is, this safety room feels full. You already know Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins and -- probably -- Micah Abernathy will take up four spots on the roster. Are the Falcons willing to carry a fifth safety? I don't put it outside the realm of possibility. The reason being the point I made earlier about Hellams' tackling. If Hellams can become an important and trusted piece of special-teams action for the Falcons, perhaps it makes his case that much stronger. --TM


WR Josh Ali

OK. I know what you're thinking: Tori, you've already put a receiver on this list! And my response to that would be: I know, and you're lucky I don't put two more. At this time every year, there are always a handful of receivers on every team who find themselves on the bubble. It's just the nature of the position and what it means for a roster depending on how numbers are weighed elsewhere.

Like Arcega-Whiteside, Ali is someone fighting for a roster spot. Also like Arcega-Whiteside, Ali finished Friday's game with 39 receiving yards. Unlike Arcega-Whiteside, Ali has a history with the Falcons that goes beyond this offseason. Ali was a practice-squad player for the Falcons last season. More so (and more pertinent to the topic of roster construction at hand), Ali got to run a couple routes with the first-team offense (and Desmond Ridder) on Friday against the Bengals. Does this mean Ali is someone whose name is written in stone to make this 53-man roster? No. But does he have a case? Yes. His history and current preseason production may help. --TM

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Logan Woodside #11 throws a pass during the fourth quarter of the Preseason Game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Friday, August 18, 2023. (Photo by Kyle Hess/Atlanta Falcons)

QB Logan Woodside

Neither Tori nor Scott named this man last week, so better late than never. The Falcons-Dolphins game last Friday was only the second time in Woodside' six-year career he played a full four quarters’ worth of any game, and he did well. Woodside completed 14 of his 23 pass attempts for 146 yards in Atlanta's win over Miami.

This Friday, Woodside's sample size was a lot smaller since both starting quarterback Desmond Ridder (seven completions in nine attempts for 80 yards and an interception) and backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke (13 completions in 21 attempts for 162 yards) were presented field time against the Bengals. But Woodside still managed to move the ball well in his limited time, completing four of his six passes for 58 yards.

Woodside played three series for the Falcons, and the third was the most important because the offense's back was against the wall. Before his final series, Atlanta held the lead. But the Bengals scored a touchdown to put Cincinnati ahead by three points with less than a minute to go in the game. Woodside and Co. began their march at their own 35-yard line. And honestly, a deep end-zone pass with 11 seconds to go to Falcons wide receiver Zay Malone made it seem like victory was still going to be possible. But then, it fell incomplete. Atlanta settled for a field goal, and thus the tie.

Still, that moment where the mini comeback looked possible was enough to serve as a reminder of Woodside' value as a potential third quarterback option on the 53-man roster. He drove the offense down the field enough to set up the field goal, too. Woodside has certainly made a case for himself in the two preseason games so far. Thursday's third and final preseason game will be his final audition before the cut-down on Aug. 29. --TW

Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and the Cincinnati Bengals during Preseason Week 2.

TE John FitzPatrick

That was a lot on Woodside, so FitzPatrick's reasoning will be shorter and sweeter. Not that there's anything short about this 6-foot-7, second-year player.

It was surprising to see Fitzpatrick had just two receptions on three targets for 30 yards. Seemed like his name was said more. That may be because his second reception and third target came in a clutch moment during the Falcons' last drive, the push Woodside led to try and give Atlanta the lead back in that final minute. Woodside connected a 25-yard pass to FitzPatrick up the middle that broke the Falcons into Bengals territory, a necessity for any chance at the game-tying field goal.

FitzPatrick spent majority of last season on injured reserve. He was designated to return toward the end of the season, but ultimately never saw game time. This could be his year. FitzPatrick's size is normally noted as the biggest difference between him and the Falcons' other tight ends; granted, starter Kyle Pitts is only an inch shorter. And for that reason, FitzPatrick is normally seen as a blocker. However, if he can prove he has the ability to be an asset in the passing game as well – like he did Friday – then his case for the 53-man roster just got that much stronger.

Besides, who doesn't support a local? FitzPatrick went to Marist High School in Atlanta before spending four years at the University of Georgia.

Also, that wasn't much shorter, was it? Oh well. --TW

Call for questions

Scott Bair has a mailbag coming on Monday. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in the next Bair Mail.

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