Atlanta Falcons Veterans Who Have Been Put on Notice This Offseason
The gauntlet has been laid out. The Atlanta Falcons have put multiple veterans on notice with some of their acquisitions this offseason. They have chosen to give some of their longest tenured players the toughest competition for not only a potential starting or key reserve role, but for their roster spot in general.
Unrestricted free agents who signed with the Falcons like Devin Hester, Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson and Jon Asamoah could give Atlanta four new starters right away. Add in the Falcons' top three draft picks in Jake Matthews, Ra'Shede Hageman and Dezmen Southward, and they now have at least seven new starters.
QB Dominique Davis
Dominique Davis needs to step up, or he will be asked to step out as the backup quarterback behind Matt Ryan. He's been Ryan's backup the past two seasons, but if he doesn't get better, the Falcons should go with one of the other two quarterbacks on the roster to become Ryan's backup.
Those two are Sean Renfree and Jeff Mathews. Renfree is a quarterback from Duke who was selected late in the seventh round of the 2013 NFL draft and looks to be a similar player to Ryan. Then again, so is Mathews out of Cornell.
The Falcons need to make sure they have a guy who understands Dirk Koetter's offense the best and who can step right in and produce in place of Ryan should the franchise player get hurt. Nonetheless, at this point, they would be screwed no matter which quarterback they go with.
RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Jacquizz Rodgers has been the change-of-pace back for Atlanta for the past three seasons and has earned a ton of playing time and touches. However, he's never shown that he was a game-breaking or even featured option at running back.
He's literally a change of pace. Just someone to be a different look than the 6'2", 240-pound monster that is Steven Jackson. That's where the Falcons' fourth-round pick this year comes in handy. Devonta Freeman is a legitimate star in the making at running back.
But he does have some technical issues in his pass blocking. The Falcons can refine that. And if they do, expect Rodgers to see many less touches than he has had throughout his past three seasons. The Falcons have a bigger, better version of him on the roster right now. One with potential to be even better too.
FB Patrick DiMarco
When a fullback plays just 200 snaps on offense in a season the way Patrick DiMarco did in 2013, it says that he's just not ready to be a starter in an NFL offense. The Falcons decided to bring in competition for the South Carolina product after the draft.
Roosevelt Nix looks to be the best competition for him despite playing nothing but defensive line or linebacker during his college football career. Nix has the physical talent to provide more than just a lead blocker in the offense. The question is if he has the rest of everything needed to usurp DiMarco.
Should DiMarco lose to Nix, it will be tough for him to find a role with another NFL team because of how fullback is a dying position. DiMarco has a huge challenge in front of him. Let's see if he can earn his roster spot one more time.
WR Harry Douglas
Julio Jones went down early in the year and the Falcons didn't have an explosive element in the offense without him. Roddy White was hobbled throughout the year and wasn't a reliable No. 1 option until he got healthy extremely late in the season.
What the Falcons did have was a mediocre starter in the form of Harry Douglas. They got someone who doesn't fight for the ball, will fall down on clutch receptions and is more of a good No. 4 receiver than a starting No. 3 receiver.
That's where the signing of Devin Hester comes in. Sure, he's a great returner. But he's also an extremely dynamic ball-carrier and explosive deep threat at receiver. Adding Hester could allow the Falcons to run less sets with Douglas on the field and more sets with White in the slot.
OL Mike Johnson
After getting injured last season before having a shot to compete for the starting job at right tackle, Mike Johnson looked like someone who might have played his last snap in Atlanta. It could still be the case as Lamar Holmes showed he is worthy of a roster spot as a reserve tackle.
At guard, Johnson could compete and end up as a better fit than he was at tackle. But Johnson will have to compete with a pair of guys just to get his roster spot back in unrestricted free-agent signing Gabe Carimi and last year's reserve guard Harland Gunn.
Johnson's versatility does give him added value. Yet, when you consider the situation he's in, it's an uphill climb for him just to make the roster this season. He could very easily wind up as the ninth and final offensive lineman to make the cut after a tough battle in training camp.
DT Corey Peters
Much like Mike Johnson, Corey Peters is coming off of a season-ending injury. However, his was so late in the season that he'll still be recovering from it throughout the offseason and until training camp—at the earliest. That's a big reason why he didn't get a huge contract this offseason.
Then the Falcons went out and signed not only Paul Soliai, but they re-signed Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry. Also, the Falcons spent a second-round pick on the raw, but talented Ra'Shede Hageman for the 3-tech role in 4-3 sets and 5-tech role in 3-4 sets.
In 4-3 sets, Peters will have to earn time as a rotational player. That's a huge downgrade for someone who was the best Falcons defensive lineman in 2013. He will need to show that he can win the job back, and it's unlikely he will be able to win back a 1-technique job over Soliai.
Edge Player Osi Umenyiora
After the Falcons went out and signed Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson, they showed more of a commitment to the 3-4 than the 4-3. Jonathan Massaquoi seems to be a better fit for Mike Nolan's 3-4 looks than Osi Umenyiora is based on his higher level of coverage skills.
If Umenyiora wants to keep his starting role, he's going to have to show that he's solid in coverage and can rush better from a standing position than Massaquoi. Then, he'll have to fight for playing time with Prince Shembo and Tyler Starr—two mid-late round picks from the past draft.
Shembo is known for his overall versatility in either the 4-3 or 3-4 defense, while Starr has shown a relentlessness to him that was missing in the Falcons pass rush. Umenyiora can potentially shine, but he may not see enough snaps to come close to last year's production totals.
LB Akeem Dent
Akeem Dent is no longer a starting linebacker for the Falcons after Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu both showed that they deserved the starting roles over him. Worrilow showed that he's the Falcons' best option at middle linebacker, and Bartu is a super backup along all linebacker spots.
So at this point, Dent is a reserve linebacker and special teams player at best. That's something the Falcons do need on the roster, but competition was added for Dent in the form of Marquis Spruill and Yawin Smallwood through the draft.
And sure, they were later-round picks. However, Dent was expected to be a starter for longer than just a season and a half when he was selected. So the Falcons need to cut their losses and look into the contract situations. They could easily cut Dent and have a better team for the long-term.
CB Robert McClain
Robert McClain looked like one of the best nickel corners in the league in 2012. Then he regressed a lot early in the 2013 season before finally settling down the last few games. The Falcons couldn't handle that inconsistency again, so they went out and signed multiple corners and even drafted one.
Josh Wilson was brought in after playing almost the entire season in Washington as a starting corner in 2013. Javier Arenas has always been an ideal nickel corner but was forced to try to play more of an outside role in both Kansas City and Arizona.
Ricardo Allen was drafted after showing that he's one of the best ball hawks at cornerback in college during the 2013 season. The Falcons have the competition in place. McClain is going to have to hold his ground versus all four guys to retain his starting role as the nickel cornerback.
S Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta
Kemal Ishmael and Zeke Motta were both seventh-round picks by the Falcons last season who earned spots on the roster as primary depth behind Thomas DeCoud and William Moore. DeCoud is now gone, but the Falcons added Dezmen Southward in the third round and Dwight Lowery in free agency.
Lowery has an injury history a mile long, and Southward is as raw as any rookie could ever be. However, expecting either Ishmael or Motta to start would be ridiculous. Both of these players will be on notice for their roster spot, though.
The Falcons have only carried four safeties on their 53-man roster through most of the past six seasons. Either Motta or Ishmael could wind up being the man cut, especially if Lowery is healthy. Ishmael and Motta will both have to be better than Lowery for both to make the roster.
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. 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.
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