ATLANTA – The final Falcons preseason game is upon us. Sunday's contest against Cleveland is the final piece of the team's evaluation while constructing its 53-man roster, though it's fair to argue its weight when compared to what the coaches and personnel staff already know about this team.
I mean, how many roster spots are really up for grabs at this point?
The game may have been an important one for a few bubble players, and also served to get some of the frontline Falcons a taste of game action. Some didn't play, including Matt Ryan, Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Jake Matthews and Calvin Ridley.
There were still plenty who stood out in this preseason affair. Let's take a look at which Falcons made an impression, good or bad, in Sunday's 19-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Kyle Pitts: Fans have been waiting the whole preseason to see the No. 4 overall pick play. They were teased during the first two games, when he suited out, warmed up and then stayed on the sideline.
The Florida product finally got in the game Sunday versus Cleveland. Hopefully you didn't get up for a beer during the first offensive series. If so, you might've missed his cameo.
The dude played one snap. Arthur Smith designed a play to get him a touch, with a short, safe pass to the rookie tight end that he turned upfield and into a 27-yard gain.
Upset that you missed it? We've got you covered.
I've seen him practice all summer, but his game speed was so evident. He glides, sailing through the second level without looking like he's breaking a sweat. Pitts got a catch, weaved through defenders, finally got tackled after 27-yards and then came right out. It got Pitts' feet wet. That's all Smith wanted, and it got it out of the way without exposing him to unnecessary injury risk.
Josh Rosen: The quarterback has had the Falcons playbook less than a week. Remember that when revisiting his second-half performance, which included some excellent throws. Count the seven-yard touchdown pass to Juwan Green among them. Add a connection with Antonio Nunn on that same drive to the collection.
He didn't have a perfect day – a fumbled snap was a real minus, and there was some expected miscommunication – but he was solid enough and clearly has arm talent far superior to Franks. Let's also not forget he performed with the third offensive line, which explains some of the sacks he took.
While we won't know if the Falcons add a quarterback after final cuts, fans should feel more comfortable about Rosen as the No. 2 after watching him work on Sunday night.
Mykal Walker: The second-year linebacker started alongside Foye Olouokun (with Jones out to preserve his health), and played well during his time working in the first half. He ended up with six tackles over two quarters, always around the ball as a linebacker should. He's a reserve, but he'll still see plenty of time during the regular season.
He has been effective as an off-the-ball linebacker and has shown some juice as a blitzer. Having depth and versatility at that position will be key, and Walker's an excellent third option who should continue to improve as he gains experience.
Younghoe Koo: The Falcons kicker knocked one through the uprights from 41 yards. Ho hum. Koo converts from that distance in his sleep. That's not why the Pro Bowler is on this list tonight. It was the gorgeous tackle on the ensuing kickoff that really jumped out. It may not have been a true form tackle, but it got the job done and stopped a big return from going any further.
Jalen Mayfield: The rookie offensive lineman has moved around this summer, playing right tackle for a few weeks before moving inside to join the left guard competition. That first-unit gig is still open because Josh Andrews hasn't put a stranglehold on it, but it's fair to wonder if Andrews remains the best and most logical option there. Honestly, it just doesn't seem like Mayfield is ready for such responsibility. That's okay, considering he played tackle in college. While he has had good moments, there was at least one example Sunday night of him getting blown straight back. That can't happen in a regular-season game.
Feleipe Franks: The undrafted rookie quarterback started Sunday's game with Ryan held out and newcomer Josh Rosen earmarked for the second half. He was better Sunday than in the preseason opener or last week in Miami, when he was rushed into action after AJ McCarron got hurt.
Franks finished 5-of-8 passing for 66 yards, with nearly half of that sum coming from Pitts' catch and run. He led one scoring drive, but never got into the end zone. While Franks has shown significant growth this summer, it's hard to imagine the Falcons trusting him enough to make him Ryan's primary backup. Maybe some time on the practice squad could help him develop at a proper pace and be ready to compete for a more prominent gig the following season.
T.J. Green: The defensive back is making it hard to consider cutting him. He didn't lead the team in tackles or anything but, as our Tori McElhaney phrased it, his first three his defensive stops could be felt. He made them in the open field, while essentially on an island. Coaches love that stuff. They need to count on you when you have no help. Green is also someone who can play safety and cornerback in a pinch and can be a core special teams player if the Falcons in fact keep him around.
Dwayne Johnson: The undrafted rookie has been pushing hard for a roster spot in recent weeks and made a solid final impression in Sunday's game. He had several tackles and an interception against the Browns. He fumbled during the interception return, but the Falcons were able to retain possession and set up Rosen's touchdown drive.
The safety position's impacted with Erik Harris, Duron Harmon, second-round pick Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins. It'd be tough to see a fifth added the original 53-man, but Johnson is a prime practice squad candidate. His presence has definitely been felt this camp.
Get an inside look at the matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns in the third preseason game of 2021.