Atlanta Falcons: Stock Up, Stock Down for Every Positional Unit This Preseason

Justin BlanchardContributor IIAugust 21, 2012

Atlanta Falcons: Stock Up, Stock Down for Every Positional Unit This Preseason

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    Midway through the 2012 NFL preseason, the Atlanta Falcons aren't looking too good on paper with an 0-2 record.

    As much as head coach Mike Smith would prefer that read 2-0, he knows exhibition season is about evaluating the roster more than anything. 

    As it stands, a number of positional units already look much-improved compared to last year, but not all are performing as expected.

    Here's a look at which positional units are rising and falling thus far in preseason.

Quarterbacks: Stock Up

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    Heading into this season, there were doubts offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's focus on the passing game would suit Matt Ryan's skill set.

    Surely, those doubts can now be erased.

    The fifth-year quarterback has completed 27-of-34 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns through two preseason games, looking comfortable in the team's new-look no-huddle, three-wide offense.

    But, the quarterback with, perhaps, the fastest growing stock is fourth-stringer Dominique Davis.

    From no-name undrafted free agent to most popular reserve in just two short weeks, Davis has displayed great poise and dazzling athletic ability in the little playing time he's received.

    The Falcons say they have an open competition for the backup job, and if that's the case, it should be Davis' to lose.

    Aging veteran Chris Redman can no longer throw the ball like he used to while fourth-year pro John Parker Wilson hasn't progressed as hoped. The two have combined to complete just 21-of-37 passes for 188 yards and an interception this preseason.

    But as bad as they've been, even the underwhelming performances of Redman and Wilson aren't enough to overshadow the terrific play of Ryan and Davis.

Running Backs: Stock Up

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    Things aren't looking up for Michael Turner. The league leader in carries in two of the past four seasons has been put on the back burner in preseason, receiving just eight carries through the first two games.

    Worse yet is what he's done with them: Turner has managed just 14 yards, thus far, giving him a measly 1.8 YPC average this exhibition season.

    But while Turner struggles, his colleagues are rising up to the occasion.

    Backup Jacquizz Rodgers has proven to be not only able to run around defenders, but through them too, pushing hard for yards after contact.

    Injury has kept reserve Jason Snelling out of the mix, but his abilities are well-documented.

    Further down the list are Antone Smith and Dmitri Nance, who have run the ball well as they vie for the final roster spot at running back.

    Ultimately, Turner's numbers at this point in the year could certainly be better, but this statement (D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) by Dirk Koetter along with the emergence of Rodgers gives hope the Falcons can field a potent running game this year. 

Fullbacks: Stock Down

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    At the fullback position, Bradie Ewing's season-ending injury has opened the way for the newly signed Lousaka Polite to take over as the favorite for the starting job over Mike Cox.

    If an August signee is already outshining his competition, it either means he's a good player who slipped through the cracks in free agency or the competition is that bad. Upon taking a look at Cox's performance, the latter is most probable.

    Cox had an awful game against the Bengals last week, missing blocks and getting easily overpowered by opposing defenders.

    Polite, meanwhile, proved to be an asset in both the running and passing game in his debut for the Falcons last week. The long-time veteran did his job blocking on the ground and scored a touchdown on a two-yard pass from Matt Ryan.

    However, even if Polite ends up being the favorite over Cox by preseason's end, that doesn't necessarily guarantee his spot on the roster.

    The Falcons likely will hold no more than one fullback on the 53-man roster, and if no one performs as expected, they could easily insert Jason Snelling at the position, who is more than capable for the role.

Wide Receivers: Stock Up

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    Matt Ryan has looked fantastic throwing the ball, but it's hard to look otherwise with a receiver corps that consists of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas.

    Jones was a one-man wrecking crew against the Baltimore Ravens in Game 1, racking up 109 yards and a touchdown on six catches. While he was kept to just three receptions last week, Ryan was still able to find White and Douglas for four and three receptions, respectively.

    It may still be preseason, but the three are looking dangerous as ever.

    Not looking so dangerous are the other receivers on the team.

    Expectations are high this year for third-year wideout Kerry Meier, but so far, he's been invisible on offense with no catches through two games.

    Six players are battling for the team's fifth receiver spot, but none has yet taken a commanding lead. Drew Davis and Kevin Cone were said to be the favorites, but they, like their competition, were marred by drops.

    Hopefully, the time will come when Meier's lack of catches is shown to be an issue of balls thrown his way as opposed to his ability to play, while a deserving candidate steps up to win the No. 5 spot.

    But with the biggest concern for this unit revolving around players who will be lucky to even see the field in 2012, there's no doubt this stock's arrow is pointing straight up.

Tight Ends: Stock Up

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    Tony Gonzalez didn't record a single catch against the Ravens two weeks ago, but he was back to being the Gonzalez of old with three catches for 41 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday.

    He may end up with the short end of the stick in an offense that may now rely more on receivers than tight ends, but Gonzalez' abilities surely won't suffer for it.

    Backup tight end Michael Palmer remains a solid blocker in the running game and was even able to put his pass-catching skills on display with two grabs for 24 yards last week.

    But Gonzalez and Palmer weren't the main concern for the unit this preseason. The No. 3 spot was.

    Fortunately, it would seem a leader in that race has finally emerged.

    Undrafted rookie LaMark Brown proved to be Dominique Davis' favorite target last week, catching four passes for 47 yards and a touchdown, all in one quarter of play.

    Tight ends Chase Coffman, Tommy Gallarda and Aron White haven't made much of an impression, but that won't matter if Brown is as good in Games 3 and 4 as he was last week.

Offensive Line: Stock Down

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    A strong performance in the first preseason contest had this offensive line looking to have finally turned the page on a disappointing 2011 campaign.

    But now, it's back to square one after an unimpressive Game 2.

    The starting line of Sam Baker, Justin Blalock, Todd McClure, Garrett Reynolds and Tyson Clabo gave little push in the running game, providing little room for Michael Turner and Jacquizz Rodgers to run on the ground.

    Pass protection was sorely lacking as well, with Ryan given little time to throw the ball and being forced out of the pocket a few times.

    The unit's reserves haven't played much better themselves, as rookie Peter Konz is, perhaps, the only backup deserving of a start this week against the Miami Dolphins.

    All in all, the same starters as last year have been given two games to show they've improved, and after last week's showing, that doesn't seem to be the case. A season-ending injury to backup left tackle Will Svitek doesn't help, either.

Defensive Line: Stock Up

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    Talent. Everywhere.

    The Falcons' defensive line has only accounted for two preseason sacks, but from the looks of it, there will be many more to come when the real season begins.

    Starting defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards have brought consistent pressure off the edge, while Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry—who's stepping in for an injured Corey Peters—have been brick walls in the middle. 

    Rookie late-round picks Travian Robertson and Jonathan Massaquoi have equally made strong cases to not only make the team, but earn a decent amount of playing time in the regular season as well.

    Not to be forgotten are veteran backups Vance Walker, Lawrence Sidbury and Kroy Biermann, who should all have spots waiting for them on the 53-man roster.

    On the outside looking in are defensive ends Louis Nzegwu and Cliff Matthews and defensive tackle Eli Joseph, for which it may come down not to talent, but to numbers.

    The Falcons' front office will have a difficult time making cuts in this unit, but that's one problem they won't be complaining about.

Linebackers: Stock Down

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    Linebacker is arguably the team's weakest position, and it shows.

    Undrafted free agents Rico Council, Jerrell Harris, Pat Schiller and Max Gruder all have yet to prove they deserve to be on an NFL roster. The group has been marked by missed assignments, missed tackles and missed opportunities, accounting for just a combined nine total tackles through two preseason games, five of which came from Council alone.

    The first team hasn't been all that great, either. Before suffering his concussion, starting middle linebacker Akeem Dent had trouble in coverage, which was equally true for starting weak-side linebacker Sean Weatherspoon last week.

    While the unit has been generally solid against the run, their struggles in pass coverage are cause for concern with the dominance of passing offenses in today's NFL.

    The 4-3 set has been the Falcons' base defense in Mike Smith's four years with the team, but changing that to a 4-2-5 appears to make much more sense at this point.

    It's going to take a lot more consistent play from the team's linebackers to believe otherwise.

Secondary: Stock Up

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    One deep touchdown pass aside, Atlanta's starting secondary has played remarkably well.

    The three-headed monster of Brent Grimes, Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson blanketed Joe Flacco's receivers in Game 1 and continued to do so in Game 2 until Andy Dalton's bomb to A.J. Green for a 50-yard score early in the second quarter.

    Safeties William Moore and Thomas Decoud have played their part as well, forcing and recovering fumbles and looking much more at ease in Mike Nolan's free-to-roam defense.

    Unfortunately, this unit's reserves haven't had found as much success.

    Backup Christopher Owens has yet to make a play while fellow reserve Dominique Franks was beat on multiple occasions last week. Meanwhile, those vying for their spots have seen their play marked by poor coverage, penalties and missed tackles.

    But, all of that shouldn't be of much concern once the season starts as long as the starters continues to shut down opposing offenses.

Specialists: Stock Up

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    I mentioned a few weeks ago that this unit was the least of the Falcons' concerns.

    Through two preseason games, it remains as such.

    At kicker, Matt Bryant has been perfect, making all three of his attempts, thus far.

    But, the real story revolves around punter Matt Bosher, who is quietly developing into one of the league's best at his position. The second-year pro is continuing to kick the ball as well as he did in the second half of last season, seeing six of his eight preseason punts fall inside the 20.

    The punt team deserves recognition as well, forcing fair catches on five of Bosher's punts.

    In the return game, Dominique Franks was unable to find the same success returning punts last Thursday as he did in Week 1, but kick returns with longs of 29 yards and 32 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers and his brother James, respectively, are positive signs.

    Keeping Jacquizz on kick returns remains a mystery for many fans, but there's still time for the Falcons to change their minds on risking him to injury.