Early Projections for the Atlanta Falcons' Final 53-Man Roster
The draft was just a week ago, but it's time to put out some early projections for the Atlanta Falcons' final 53-man roster. Keep in mind, this is all just speculation at this point because we haven't even made it through rookie camp just yet.
The Falcons brought in nine drafted rookies, 20 undrafted rookies and multiple key free agents this offseason in a roster-reloading mission. After going 4-12 in 2013, with minimal camp competition last year, it looks like every job outside of a select few is up for grabs.
And that's a good thing. There will be some surprise cuts this offseason. There will also be some surprises when it comes to even making the roster during the season. Outside of injuries, this is the best projection for the Falcons' opening-day roster.
Starter: Matt Ryan
Backup: Jeff Mathews
When reviews from minicamp compare a guy to the current incumbent starter, as is the case with Jeff Mathews, it makes sense that he would be the one who will eventually win the job. Matt Ryan isn't going anywhere after signing the contract that he did. He's the franchise quarterback for better or worse at this point.
Didn't Make the Cut: Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree
Dominique Davis and Sean Renfree both have experience in the current scheme and have earned a roster spot of sorts in the past. However, the Falcons only kept two quarterbacks on the roster last season, and they will probably do the same this year. Renfree is eligible for the practice squad.
Running Backs and Fullbacks (5)
Featured: Steven Jackson
Change of Pace: Jacquizz Rodgers
Fullback: Roosevelt Nix
Backups: Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman
Steven Jackson is paid the big bucks to be the "bell cow" back. He's not going anywhere and will at least get another shot as the featured back in the rotation. Until someone usurps him, Jacquizz Rodgers will be the change-of-pace specialist in the running back corps.
Antone Smith and Devonta Freeman will get some touches this year, and Freeman could easily become the long-term starter as the featured running back. The question is who will be paired with him after 2014 due to contract situations.
Most fullbacks have trouble starting in the NFL as a rookie because they lack the functional strength to win the job. Roosevelt Nix has shown plenty of that as an undersized defensive end in college against even the best at Alabama. A transition to fullback is perfect for his athletic profile, and Nix could impact in 2014.
Didn't Make the Cut: Jerome Smith, Josh Vaughan, Patrick DiMarco and Maurice Hagens
Jerome Smith is an ideal practice-squad candidate should Jackson go down again this year. He's a Jason Snelling clone who could provide similar value when he gets the ball. Vaughan is like a minor league pitcher who's just out of options.
Patrick DiMarco and Maurice Hagens are both solid fullbacks, but the athletic Nix is going to be too much for them to defeat in a camp battle. However, it wouldn't shock if any of the three fullbacks did end up winning the job.
Wide Receivers (6)
Featured: Julio Jones
Possession: Roddy White
Slot: Harry Douglas
Backups: Devin Hester, Drew Davis and Geraldo Boldewijn
Julio Jones is one of the top five wide receivers in football when he's healthy. Roddy White is almost on the verge of being considered "Mr. Falcon Jr." Harry Douglas is a great slot receiver, but he's a very solid depth guy on the outside should either White or Jones go down.
Devin Hester allows the Falcons to have an explosive option should Jones go down once again. Drew Davis and Geraldo Boldewijn look to be the best from the large group of young undrafted receivers. Davis is a premier gunner in the NFL, and Boldewijn has a Brian Finneran-type quality to his game.
Didn't Make the Cut: Dominique Croom, Bernard Reedy, Darius Johnson, Tramaine Thompson, Julian Jones and Freddie Martino
Dominique Croom and Darius Johnson both contributed to the Falcons in 2013 on either the practice squad or the playing field, but neither should be a top-six receiver for the Falcons in 2014. Bernard Reedy and Tramaine Thompson both look like slot receivers who won't be able to beat out Douglas or Davis.
Julian Jones and Freddie Martino look like the best candidates for the practice squad. Martino was a poor-man's Roddy White when he played at North Greenville and could be a surprise after a few years. Jones is just a tough worker who will at least contribute on scout teams.
Tight Ends (3)
Starter: Levine Toilolo
Blocking Specialist: Bear Pascoe
Backup: Jacob Pedersen
The Falcons look to be punting on trying to replace Tony Gonzalez's role in their offense. That's the wise decision, as Levine Toilolo should be a better fit as an in-line tight end than Gonzalez was. Toilolo may not be perfect, but Ryan seems to feel comfortable with him, and he should see red-zone looks.
Bear Pascoe is an ideal sixth offensive lineman with good hands for the 10 balls that will be thrown his way this year. Jacob Pedersen is the real wild card. He was a personal favorite during the draft lead-up as an H-back-style tight end as both a blocker and receiver.
Didn't Make the Cut: Mickey Shuler, Andrew Szczerba and Brian Wozniak
Brian Wozniak stands the best chance of making the roster or practice squad as a reserve because of how good he is as a blocker. Mickey Shuler has a great athletic profile but has done nothing since he entered the league, and Andrew Szczerba looks like nothing but a camp body.
Offensive Linemen (9)
Left Tackle: Sam Baker
Left Guard: Justin Blalock
Center: Joe Hawley
Right Guard: Jon Asamoah
Right Tackle: Jake Matthews
Swing Tackle: Lamar Holmes
Guard/Center: Peter Konz
Backups: Mike Johnson and Ryan Schraeder
Sam Baker and Justin Blalock resume their roles as the starting left tackle and left guard in the offense. Joe Hawley looks to be in a competition with Peter Konz for the starting center spot which he should win. Jon Asamoah and Jake Matthews were brought in to fix the right side of the line this year.
However, unless the Falcons move to a zone-blocking scheme, it looks like Matthews is the long-term solution at left tackle, with Lamar Holmes continuing to learn at right tackle. Holmes and Mike Johnson should make the roster due to versatility.
Konz should also end up as the reserve at center and guard for game days. The wild card here is whether the Falcons like Gabe Carimi or Ryan Schraeder more. At the end of the day, Schraeder doesn't have the injury history holding him back that Carimi does.
Didn't Make the Cut: Terren Jones, Gabe Carimi, Harland Gunn, Adam Replogle and James Stone
Terren Jones and Adam Replogle are both good practice-squad-caliber guys, but they shouldn't be on an active roster. Harland Gunn isn't an upgrade over Johnson, Schraeder or Konz at either guard or center. James Stone could be the dark horse to make the roster if Konz or Hawley suffer an injury.
Carimi is the toughest one to determine. If he's 100 percent healthy, he could compete with Schraeder for the final spot on the roster here. But it's going to take a lot for him to usurp the second-year lineman out of Valdosta State.
Defensive Linemen (6)
Left End: Tyson Jackson
Nose Tackle: Paul Soliai
4-3 Under Tackle/3-4 Right End: Ra'Shede Hageman
Backups: Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters and Malliciah Goodman
Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai were brought in to add some needed bulk to the defensive line. Ra'Shede Hageman was added because he has the potential to become the next Richard Seymour-type destroyer on the interior of the defensive line.
Jonathan Babineaux and Malliciah Goodman will be ends in the 3-4 looks for the Falcons when they rotate in. They can also play end or tackle in the 4-3 looks. Corey Peters is the ideal rotational guy for Soliai because he can pass rush much more effectively than Soliai can.
Didn't Make the Cut: Donte Rumph, Cliff Matthews, Peria Jerry, Travian Robertson and Nosa Eguae
Donte Rumph and Nosa Eguae are ideal practice-quad guys, but they likely won't come close to making the roster. Peria Jerry finally should be cut once Peters shows he's healthy. Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson were a great combination at South Carolina, but they have been nothing but depth in the pros.
Edge Players and Linebackers (10)
4-3 Right End: Osi Umenyiora
3-4 Weak Outside Linebacker: Jonathan Massaquoi
4-3 Weakside Linebacker/3-4 Weak-Inside Linebacker: Sean Weatherspoon
4-3 Middle Linebacker/3-4 Strong-Inside Linebacker: Paul Worrilow
Strong-side Linebacker: Kroy Biermann
Backups: Prince Shembo, Tyler Starr, Joplo Bartu, Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood
Osi Umenyiora and Kroy Biermann look to be the base defensive starters on the edge. Biermann coming back from an Achilles injury is going to be tough to gauge, though. Hopefully, he'll be back and able to drop like a linebacker as he used to.
Jonathan Massaquoi looks to be the best fit for the Falcons' pass-rush specialist in the Mike Nolan defense, as he profiles similarly to Cameron Wake and Elvis Dumervil. Joplo Bartu and Paul Worrilow have both earned roster spots after their performances in 2013.
Worrilow looks to be the guy who should wear the green dot, as he should never leave the field due to his all-around abilities. Prince Shembo and Tyler Starr both have a lot of potential as pass-rushers. If Starr develops, he's going to be a monster in the Falcons defense.
Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood are the ideal backup inside linebackers, as they can both play special teams effectively. Spruill can also line up at weak-side linebacker in the 4-3 looks Atlanta will show sometimes. Atlanta really has the personnel to run Nolan's defense the way it should be.
Didn't Make the Cut: Stansly Maponga, Walker May, Jacques Smith, Akeem Dent and Brenden Daley
There are some shocks here in Stansly Maponga and Akeem Dent. However, both have been adequately replaced with Shembo and Spruill. Walker May, Jacques Smith and Brenden Daley are all camp bodies who have some solid depth potential.
Right Cornerback: Desmond Trufant
Left Cornerback: Robert Alford
Slot Cornerback: Robert McClain
Backups: Josh Wilson and Ricardo Allen
Desmond Trufant was one of the best rookies in the NFL last year. Period. And it was not just at cornerback. He comes back this year as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL. Robert Alford comes back with a full season of experience and could be ready for a big jump.
If Alford and Trufant make the jump to the peak of their potential this season, they could look like Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent of the Philadelphia Eagles of the late-1990s to early-2000s. Robert McClain should be ready to rebound after a mediocre 2013 campaign at nickel cornerback.
If he does fail, Josh Wilson should be right there to pick up the slack as a veteran talent at nickel. Ricardo Allen could possibly not even make the roster. However, the Falcons always seem to give draft picks a pass when it comes to earning roster spots in the Thomas Dimitroff-Mike Smith era.
Didn't Make the Cut: Javier Arenas, Jordan Mabin and Devonta Glover-Wright
Yes, Javier Arenas is listed here. It's not because he doesn't have talent. It's because the Falcons will only carry five cornerbacks, and he just happens to be No. 6. Jordan Mabin and Devonta Glover-Wright are both long shots who won't likely make the roster.
Strong Safety: William Moore
Free Safety: Dezmen Southward
Backups: Dwight Lowery and Kemal Ishmael
When it's all said and done, Dezmen Southward will show that he's more than worthy of a spot as the starting free safety. He's got a ton of potential and should at the very minimum be an upgrade over Thomas DeCoud's poor 2013 season.
William Moore is back as the leader of the secondary. If Dwight Lowery is healthy, he should easily make the roster as a depth guy at both safety spots. Kemal Ishmael has high potential, but he's likely nothing more than a special teams guy.
Didn't Make the Cut: Zeke Motta (IR), Sean Baker and Kimario McFadden
Zeke Motta could be out for the year due to a neck injury, according to ESPN.com's Vaughn McClure. If he's healthy, Atlanta could easily keep him over Lowery. Sean Baker and Kimario McFadden will battle it out for a spot on the practice squad.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker: Matt Bryant
Punter/Kickoff Specialist: Matt Bosher
Long Snapper: Josh Harris
Matt Bryant is one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL, but he's nearing 40 and could be in his final season. Matt Bosher is one of the better field-position punters in the NFL and isn't afraid to go out and hit someone. Josh Harris is the snapper whom the Falcons incumbents are comfortable with.
Didn't Make the Cut: Matt Yoklic
Nothing against Matt Yoklic, but he's not anywhere close to the punter Bosher is. It's tough for anyone to make the roster as an undrafted free agent. It's even tougher when it's a punter who was just brought in to not completely destroy the Falcons' punter's leg.
All stats used are from Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats (subscription required), ESPN.com, CFBStats or NFL.com. All combine and pro-day info is courtesy of NFLDraftScout.com (via CBSSports.com). All contract information is courtesy of Spotrac and Rotoworld.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, college football, the NFL and the NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.