Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
ATLANTA – This is the first of 10 roster position predictions I’ll be rolling out in the coming days. I'm starting with the running backs for a reason: Not only is this group deeper than it's been since Dan Quinn took over in 2015, but how things unfold here this preseason will directly affect what happens with at least two other position groups (and, ultimately, the 53-man roster).
In case you need a refresher ...
No. 2 up for grabs: After Devonta Freeman, you'd think Ito Smith would have the inside track to the backup job. Not so, says Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who said the competition behind Freeman is wide open. And right now, Brian Hill is making a strong case to not only make the team, but for that No. 2 spot. Qadree Ollison bounced back from a subpar first game against the Broncos to string three consecutive solid performances against the Dolphins, Jets and Redskins.
Special teams will factor in: If rookie receivers Marcus Green or Olamide Zaccheaus had run away with the return job, it could have put Kenjon Barner's roster spot in jeopardy. But so far that hasn't happened and Barner has been the most consistent performer of that group. How Hill, Ollison and Tony Brooks-James play on special teams will also factor in to roster decisions.
Tight ends aplenty: The Falcons have a crowded tight ends room that includes free-agent signee Luke Stocker. Why does that matter? The former Bucs and Titans player is primarily known as a run-blocking tight end, but he's also played some fullback – and that could affect Ricky Ortiz. Stocker's versatility will likely come into play when the Falcons are considering their 46-man (game day) and 53-man rosters.
I want to put Qadree Ollison on the list above because the fifth-round pick in April's draft has done more than enough to warrant a spot on the roster. But so has third-year back Brian Hill, who has been one of the best stories to emerge from this training camp. At the end of the day, I think Ito Smith (who rushed for 315 yards on 90 carries and four touchdowns while adding 27 catches for 152 yards in 2018) looks better in Year 2 and is locked in to make this roster and be the primary backup.
- 2019 roster forecast: 4 running backs, 1 specialist
The Falcons have needed at least three running backs and one fullback to get through the last two seasons. I think they'll keep four on the roster this year plus Barner, whose primary role will be as a return man, so I'll count him as a special teams player. Much will depend on what happens with a few other position groups, especially special teams and tight ends. After that first preseason game I thought the practice squad might be a possibility for Ollison, but I don't see that happening now. I think the tough call will be Hill, and I think the Falcons keep him in the fold. Brooks-James is the fastest of the backs and I think the Falcons like him a lot, enough to keep him on the practice squad.
- Devonta Freeman
- Ito Smith
- Brian Hill
- Qadree Ollison
Punt/kick returner: Kenjon Barner
Projected practice squad
There's always a chance that the Falcons could sign a player who is not currently on their roster, but if they stick with their own players, this is my projected 10-player practice squad:
- RB Tony Brooks-James
- WR Christian Blake
- DE Tre' Crawford
- DE Austin Larkin
- DE Durrant Miles
- TE Jaeden Graham
- OT Jaelin Robinson
- S Chris Cooper
- QB Danny Etling
- LB Del’Shawn Phillips
What do you think?
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Matt Tabeek and Will McFadden weigh in with their final thoughts before roster cuts.