2012 Atlanta Falcons: Grading the Entire 53-Man Roster
This is the biggest signal that there is a changing of philosophy in Atlanta. The Falcons have decided that instead of picking their team based on investment, they will end up having the top 53 players make the roster.
Follow along as we take a look at the entire roster by position grouping.
Starting QB Matt Ryan
Matt Ryan is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL today. In the preseason, he looked better than he ever has. This is especially true in the hectic pockets that he will be facing more often than other quarterbacks due to a sub-par pass blocking offensive line.
Reserve QB Dominique Davis
He had an amazing preseason that led to the Falcons cutting long term backups Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson in favor of both him and Luke McCown. He posted passer ratings in the second and third games of 99.5 and 149.3 and did what's most important for any quarterback to do—keep the team in position to win the game or drive down the field to have a shot at winning the game.
Reserve QB Luke McCown
He's been with the team for all of one week. There is nothing to base anything off of when looking at McCown other than him knowing the offense that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has installed in Atlanta.
Running Backs: B
Starting RB Michael Turner
As a runner, Turner seems to have taken a step back this season. His average this preseason has been a paltry 2.7 yards-per-carry. However, he has really learned how to catch the ball out of the backfield with his six catches for 50 yards on check downs showing that he's ready to expand his game for the first time in his career.
Starting FB Lousaka Polite
When Polite started to look like Ovie Mughelli on blocks and then also started catching passes out of the backfield, that was all she wrote for the fullback battle. His touchdown score versus the Bengals was the spot when it seemed the Falcons may have found their stopgap at fullback until Ewing gets healthy.
Change-of-Pace RB Jacquizz Rodgers
Not only has he looked like an explosive option as a change-of-pace back, but he has also looked great as a kick returner in his time there as well. His 85 yards as a rusher has longs of 16 and 11 on plays where blocking wasn't set up perfectly. He shows his burst on his kick returns as well and could very well have 1,500 all-purpose yards this season.
Reserve RB/FB Jason Snelling
Snelling's versatility is paramount to his success on the roster. He may end up on the injury report for a few games early in the year as he still hasn't fully recovered to where he was able to enter games yet. But expect his ability to line up at fullback and running back to give him quite a few snaps in the offense in 2012.
Reserve RB Antone Smith
Despite being no more than a special teams player under Mike Mularkey, Antone Smith is looking to have a role in the actual offense this year as well. This isn't discounting his already excellent special teams play and he has continued to show why he had a roster spot in the first place.
Nonetheless, his 11.5 yard per catch average out of the backfield in the preseason showed that the Falcons have someone who can team with Jacquizz Rodgers on passing plays in the backfield. He can add an interesting wrinkle to the offense that would be hard to defend.
Wide Receivers: A+
Starting WR Roddy White
Roddy White didn't look any different than the four-time Pro Bowl receiver that he is this preseason. His nine catches for 128 yards and one touchdown in the new offense as the secondary receiving option showed that he is more than willing to take a backup role to the more explosive Jones. This is only a good thing long term for the offense as White is starting to taper down in his career.
Starting WR Julio Jones
Much like Tony Gonzalez is a future Hall of Fame player, it's safe to say that Julio Jones is a future Pro Bowl player. The question is whether the future is now after his preseason performance showed the flashes that he could be on pace for a ridiculous season.
His 240 yards on 13 catches included long plays of 36 and 49 yards. Jones will be the deep option this year, but his average of 18.3 yards says that he is able to get an explosive play every time he touches the ball.
Slot WR Harry Douglas
Despite having just six catches for 47 yards this preseason, Douglas has shown that he can be that clutch third down receiver when needed. He has also seemingly earned the starting job as the punt returner allowing the team to cut Dominique Franks.
Reserve WR Kevin Cone
Kevin Cone did everything he needed to do in order to allow the Falcons to finally part ways with the often injured and underperforming Kerry Meier. The man who looks to be the next Brian Finneran is Kevin Cone.
He's been able to provide a reliable third down option for when Dominique Davis is in the game and has also been able to show yard after catch ability on the 49 yard touchdown pass he caught against the Jaguars.
Reserve WR Tim Toone
The Falcons weren't kidding when they said the final receiver spot would be decided by special teams. However, they forgot to mention that the final two spots would be decided by it. Tim Toone was signed when the team lost Lofa Tatupu and Adam Nissley for the season.
He was an afterthought in most fans minds until his big 39 yard touchdown against the Dolphins. That all but guaranteed him earning a roster spot then and there. However, his special teams play as both a returner and a gunner is what sealed the deal for the former Mr. Irrelevant.
Tight Ends: B
Starting TE Tony Gonzalez
Tony Gonzalez is the best tight end of all time and with how he keeps his health, it's hard to believe that he is really in his final season. He's a future Hall of Famer and isn't looking any different this season. He should be able to have a solid year as the third option in a passing heavy attack.
Reserve TE Michael Palmer
Michael Palmer has always been an excellent backup tight end in his short career for the Falcons. His blocking has always been on point and his receiving has always improved. However, this preseason, he looked like the kind of all-around player the Falcons have been wanting him to develop into by gaining 60 yards on his five catches in limited action this preseason.
Reserve TE Tommy Gallarda
Tommy Gallarda won the final tight end job despite not getting targeted in the final game versus the Jaguars. His blocking is what won him the job, but it's almost disheartening to see the Falcons go for the blocker after LaMark Brown had an excellent training camp.
Offensive Tackles: C-
Starting LT Sam Baker
Despite how he was given a vote of confidence from Mike Smith publicly, the fourth year player still looks terrible in pass protection and likely shouldn't be starting. However, he is still a decent enough run blocker and should hold the spot until the coaches feel confident in Lamar Holmes to start or he gets injured—whichever comes first.
Starting RT Tyson Clabo
Tyson Clabo has looked like himself in the preseason. Despite the new offense, he seems to be picking up right where he left off as one of the top three right tackles in the NFL. The long-time veteran has been dominant in the running game and has looked like the top tier pass blocker he is.
Reserve OT Lamar Holmes
Lamar Holmes didn't play until the third game of the preseason. In that game, he played for 20 snaps and had just one negative play where he was called for a false start penalty. In the final game of the preseason, he played the whole game for over 60 snaps and is looking like he could take the starting spot from Baker this season.
Reserve OT/OG Mike Johnson
Mike Johnson played backup right tackle for the entire preseason. However, he has shown that he could play either guard spot and on the outside at right tackle over the past two preseasons. Due to this, expect Johnson to be one of the seven active linemen on the roster.
Offensive Guards: B
Starting LG Justin Blalock
Justin Blalock wasn't noticed at all in the preseason. For an offensive lineman, that's exactly what you want. Blalock has used his frame to perform as one of the best run blockers in the preseason and his pass blocking has already put him at fringe Pro Bowl level.
Starting RG Peter Konz
Peter Konz may have been the second round pick and a center in college. However, his ability in the pro game is as a right guard. He has looked excellent pulling out in run and screen plays and should have earned the job despite Mike Smith not announcing his starters just yet.
Reserve OG/OT Garrett Reynolds
Reynolds has improved quite a bit. However, he hasn't earned the right to retain his job. He has been beaten in the eyes of many who have watched the preseason games. His pass blocking still leaves a hole in the middle of the offensive line and that can't happen if he wants to start.
Reserve OG Phillipkeith Manley
The fact that he made the roster is inspiration for my fantasy team name. However, he is a highly talented guard in his own right and has shown that in the preseason this year. He is quite raw, but he would have been scooped up by another team had he been cut and he could provide long term depth behind both guard spots.
Starting C Todd McClure
Despite the lack of a Pro Bowl appearance, Todd McClure is the second best center in Falcons history. He has led the offensive line for 12 years and has won the job again in 2012 looking like a top 10 center in the process. However, he has also looked equal to Joe Hawley and will only get the nod for his experience as the starter.
Reserve C/G Joe Hawley
Hawley looked like the true heir apparent to the starting center job. He's been able to use his athleticism and strength to show that he is equal to Todd McClure at this point on the field. However, since McClure is the long time starter and has the experience edge, he will get the nod for now.
Defensive Ends: A
Starting RE John Abraham
John Abraham has made two top five left tackles—Andrew Whitworth and Jake Long—and also Michael Oher look like pee wee league tackles this preseason. He may not have earned a sack against Whitworth or Oher, but he was able to create pressure on almost every single play.
Starting LE Ray Edwards
Ray Edwards has proven his worth as a run stuffer. He may never be the 10 sack player that the fans want him to be, but he provides pass rush on every play and continues to get better as the game goes along. Expect him to have seven-to-nine sacks with half of them in the fourth quarter.
Reserve DE Kroy Biermann
Kroy Biermann is enjoying his new role as a defensive end/linebacker. He gets to play both strongside linebacker in the 3-4 alignments and strongside end in the 4-3 alignments. As the Falcons get more comfortable in the defense, expect Biermann to be an ex-factor as part of the sub packages for the defense.
Reserve DE Lawrence Sidbury
Sidbury is also playing the end/linebacker role. He has earned the ability to see more time with his improved performances over the years. He will be able to see a lot of time in the sub packages when the team wants to go to it's speed grouping.
Reserve DE Jonathan Massaquoi
Massaquoi may not be the starter or even really see the field until after this season. However, he has earned his way onto the field with a great performance this preseason. He looks much more like he did as a Junior and most draft experts were ranking him as a top two round pick than the fifth round pick he wound up as.
Reserve DE Cliff Matthews
Cliff Matthews is a dark horse. He has continually impressed whenever he has seen the field. He has a fumble recovered as well as a fumble forced in the preseason. He also has learned how to set the edge in the running game. As a depth player, it's hard to find any that are better.
Defensive Tackles: B
Starting UT Jonathan Babineaux
Jonathan Babineaux this offseason has finally gotten healthy and is looking like the Babineaux of old. He has looked more fluid in the new defense that seems to be designed for him to just shoot the gap all day.
Starting NT Peria Jerry
The biggest surprise all preseason is Peria Jerry looking like the player he did when the Falcons drafted him in the first round. The Falcons have the ability to put Corey Peters on the reserve/non-football injury and not have to worry about rushing him back now due to Jerry looking as good as Peters did last year.
Reserve DT Vance Walker
Despite being on the roster bubble, Walker has looked solid in the preseason against both the pass and the run. He will never be a starter, but his ability to come in off the bench as the No. 3 defensive tackle will be missed in 2013 as he is an unrestricted free agent and could easily get a starting contract.
Reserve DT Travian Robertson
Travian Robertson has been the biggest surprise of them all. He has gone from an afterthought as a seventh round pick to one of the main members of the rotation at defensive tackle. It was originally thought that he could be cut and stashed on the practice squad. However, after two preseason games, the Falcons decided they could afford to put Peters on the reserve list with how well both he and Jerry played.
Starting WLB Sean Weatherspoon
Sean Weatherspoon is going to be the Falcons top choice for a Pro Bowler this season on defense. He is the new leader and arguably the best 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL today. His worst attribute is his coverage, and even that has improved with the new scheme that Nolan has installed.
Starting SLB Stephen Nicholas
Stephen Nicholas is going to be the sleeper on the Falcons defense. Everyone knows about Weatherspoon being a dominant level player, but Nicholas has the ability to truly shine in a defense that will take advantage of his coverage and blitzing abilities.
Starting MLB Akeem Dent
Akeem Dent suffered a concussion early on in the preseason. However, he has already recovered and looks like he is ready for the season. He was able to provide run support at the same level Lofton did as a rookie and should develop into a much better middle linebacker as the year wears on.
Reserve LB Mike Peterson
He's well past his prime and likely in his final season with the Falcons and the NFL. However, he can still play both inside and outside linebacker and his ability to be talented depth at both is going to be an asset for the Falcons in 2012.
Reserve LB Robert James
Robert James has gone from a long term practice squad and injured reserve member of the Falcons into a bona fide member of the roster this year. His is one of the few guys out there who can back up all three spots and is a tremendous special teams player.
Starting LCB Brent Grimes
Brent Grimes is a top five corner in the NFL. He has continued to look like the dominant player that he has been since 2010. He is fully recovered from a late season knee injury that forced him to miss the playoff game versus the Giants.
Starting RCB Dunta Robinson
He will likely line up as a starting right corner now that the defense is predicated on bumping and running. In the nickel, he will be sliding down into the slot and will be used not just in coverage but as a blitzer and a rover of sorts.
Starting Nickel Asante Samuel
He was stolen for just a seventh round pick before the draft. In the nickel package, Samuel will line up in the left corner spot while Robinson lines up as the nickel. Samuel could also end up starting at right corner, but it wouldn't surprise to see a rotation of Robinson and Samuel in the base packages.
Reserve CB Chris Owens
Owens didn't play much in the preseason due to injuries. However, last season he looked like the best cover corner the Falcons had in their reserve ranks. He will be able to backup all three spots and in Nolan's new scheme, should have his best season yet.
Reserve CB Robert McClain
Robert McClain has been a long term journeyman. However, he proved his worth as a cover corner to earn this spot over Dominique Franks. He doesn't provide a return man option, but he doesn't need to with his ability to play special teams on both the return and kick teams.
Starting FS Thomas DeCoud
Thomas DeCoud was used terribly in Brian Van Gorder's defense and he still was able to look like a good safety. However, he could shoot to the top five now that he is in a role that will put him in the ideal position to succeed. He's physical and isn't afraid to blitz or fly around in run support.
Starting SS William Moore
William Moore has the ability to be one of the best players in the NFL at safety. His coverage ability combined with his size and toughness give him a combination that could be utilized similar to how LeRoy Butler was used by the Packers.
Reserve Safety Chris Hope
The former Pro Bowl safety was brought in so that he could teach DeCoud and Moore how to play at a more efficient level in the NFL. Hope also gives the Falcons someone who can provide depth at both free and strong safety.
Reserve Safety Charles Mitchell
Mitchell is the rookie sixth round pick for the Falcons this year. He was able to earn a roster spot after his excellent play on special teams and his ability to back up both spots. Don't expect him to see the field a lot though, he is the fourth safety on the depth chart.
Kicker Matt Bryant
Matt Bryant has looked excellent this preseason. He was 100 percent efficient on both extra points and field goals in the preseason with a long of 51 yards. He has no issues when it comes to confidence as he kicks and is best in clutch situations.
Punter/Kickoff/Holder Matt Bosher
Matt Bosher has been looking like he did towards the end of the 2012 season. His punting average may only be 43.4 yards, but his hang time has been tremendous and he has also boomed 11 of the 20 punts inside of the 20 yard line. As a kickoff specialist, he has also been kicking the ball high and deep with great hang time. Bosher is just part of one of the best special teams units in the NFL.
Long Snapper Josh Harris
In a surprise move, Joe Zelenka got cut for Josh Harris. The biggest question is to whether it was a money move or a talent move. Long snapper is a hard position to scout but he must have been better than Zelenka to cause him to be cut after four years with the team.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist and Trends and Traffic Writer for Bleacher Report. As a Featured Columnist, he covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL Draft. He is also the Falcons analyst at Drafttek, runs the NFL Draft Website ScarDraft.com and hosts Kvetching Draftniks Radio.