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Updates from Week 4
ESPN's Michael Rothstein prepared a final 53-man roster projection. Three will make the roster, Marcus Mariota, Desmond Ridder, and Feleipe Franks, whose ability to play tight end allows the team some roster flexibility. These three have been the only ones on the roster preseason and have taken all snaps. Mariota is the starter and received a day off against Jacksonville, where Ridder took over 80% of the snaps. Mariota has been well ahead of Mariota regarding scheme knowledge and comfort operating with Arthur Smith. The view is that Mariota is doing everything needed. Following the Jets game, Smith said, "I'm pleased with Marcus. He got into a good rhythm." Ridder will likely see game action at some point in the season, but currently, Mariota has a firm grasp on the starting job heading into the season.
Smith has preached the need to play cleaner, as penalties have been a constant problem through the preseason. While Ridder is the future, he started the game against Jacksonville by throwing an interception on his first attempt. Afterward, Ridder said, "Once one thing goes wrong, our job as a quarterback is not to make it any worse than it already is, and that's what I need to do better." Pressure is mounting, and Ridder will find it hard to crack the lineup if the team is competitive.
Expect four running backs: Cordarrelle Patterson, Damien Williams, Tyler Allgeier, and Avery Williams. Patterson will be the backfield star and a significant contributor to the offense, essentially serving as the team's WR3 and leading the backfield. In anticipation of this role, the team has given him much of the preseason off to maintain his health. Patterson was on pace to deliver an RB1 season before the depleted backfield forced him to take on more true running back work. Williams started against the Jets in week 2, receiving the first four carries, and was held out of Jacksonville as starters did not play. Expect him to serve in the power role like Mike Davis in 2021, allowing Patterson to play the dual-purpose role that saw him thrive.
Allgeier played early, scoring two touchdowns but delivered a limited performance with 32 yards on ten touches. The team ran out of backs in 2021 and still needs to add long-term talent for this position. The team allowed Caleb Huntley and Qadree Ollison to make the team, but neither could come through. They may be in the secondary market due to Patterson's ability to play outside at receiver.
Rothstein sits at six in this position: Drake London, Bryan Edwards, Olamide Zaccheaus, KhaDarel Hodge, Damiere Byrd, and Jared Bernhardt. London emerged as the room's star early but has sat for the last couple of weeks. There is little concern about London's availability for week one, as the team has been overly cautious about his return to action. Edwards is the starter outside opposite London and keeps up the trend of physicality. Smith has reshaped the skilled talent to bully teams like Smith's former team, the Derrick Henry Titans.
Zaccheaus is the third receiver, and the team played him heavily in the slot this preseason, with 70% of his snaps at the position. Byrd brings experienced depth. Hodge rounds out the receivers expected to see regular playing time; he brings the physicality Smith seeks and earns his spot in camp. Scott Blair of Falcons.com praised Hodge "He has consistently made plays in practice and has extensive first-team work." Bernhardt has been the talk of camp, another of Blair's favorites as a former lacrosse star and option quarterback who switched to receiver this fall.
Three true tight ends round out the skill positions: Kyle Pitts, Parker Hesse, and Anthony Firkser. Feleipe Franks lends depth to this position. Pitts has consistently dominated in camp and in-game action; he is precisely what the team hoped to draft when they used the fourth overall pick on him in 2021.
Hesse is a converted defensive lineman who has shown a growing receiving ability to complement an excellent blocking ability. Firkser suffered an injury against Jacksonville, but indications are fine moving forward. He brings comfort in the offense as a depth piece, but the team may not see many opportunities for him, with Hesse's blocking putting him ahead to see playing time.
There has not been much defensive talk with this team. A.J. Terrell is a star, and Grady Jarrett has been a proven producer throughout his career. After that, the team is full of wildcards, between young players who have yet to establish themselves and free agents brought in to patch as best as possible. The most interesting camp story has been Dee Alford. The corner from the CFL has been a daily drumbeat regarding forcing turnovers. Blair called him the "Camp MVP, a ballhawk who just makes plays."
Avery Williams is locked in as the team’s top punt returner and will likely handle the bulk of the kickoffs as well. The biggest question is whether the team will allow Cordarrelle Patterson to return a handful of kickoffs as he chases the league’s career touchdown return record.
Updates from Week 3
Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder played well, though the Falcons played their starters while the Jets held most out. Mariota led off the night going 6-10, 132 yards, 1 TD, and a 137.5 rating. On a tight window throw, he found Olamide Zaccheaus in the endzone and continued a strong summer showing. During the broadcast, he talked about the Raiders providing him an opportunity to reset his career after entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick and disappointing in Tennessee. He has looked in control, and his comfort with Arthur Smith has allowed the game to slow down in his second opportunity to lead a franchise.
Desmond Ridder has kept the race tight and continued to do so, going 10-13 with 143 yards. PFF tweeted Ridder has been the only quarterback with three runs of 10+ yards this preseason. Ridder has shown these moments are not too big, and if losses start to mount for Mariota, the team will need to give Ridder a hard look.
Cordarrelle Patterson will be the primary threat out of the backfield, and he only saw one snap against the Jets. Damien Williams looks to have a leg up as the complimentary back, handling the first two carries against the Jets before getting the rest of the night off. D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution praised his effort during the week with the Jets, noting Williams punished defenders in the red zone during situational drills.
Tyler Allgeier is the name dynasty players are watching, and he looks to have advanced up the depth chart, playing snaps on the first series after not entering the Lions game until the second half as the fifth running back. Allgeier saw a lot of work in this game but found tough sledding, with nine touches for 29 yards. At this point, Patterson, Williams, Allgeier, and kick returner Avery Williams look to be the backfield on the final 53.
All eyes are on Drake London’s knee after suffering an injury against the Lions. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein relayed optimism from Arthur Smith: “Nothing that we are concerned about long term. We’ll be smart.” London’s absence allowed camp story Jared Bernhardt, a chance to shine as he led the team with 67 receiving yards. Bernhardt was one of the best lacrosse players in the nation at Maryland; when his eligibility expired, he moved to Ferris State and played quarterback. Bernhardt has worked his way from a roster longshot to a potential contributor.
The top of the Falcons roster looks set with Bryan Edwards lining up outside opposite London and Olamide Zaccheaus as the slot in three wide receiver sets. KhaDarel Hodge has the inside track on making the roster, playing with Mariota and the top offense against the Jets.
Jets coach Robert Saleh had the best comparison for Kyle Pitts yet, saying: “He’s a Madden create a player.” Pitts dominated the week of dual practices, emerging as a favorite target for Mariota and scoring multiple times between the two days, a performance he carried into the game on Monday night with a 52-yard reception that may have been a touchdown had the ball hit him in stride. AtlantaFalcons.com’s Scott Blair noted Pitts put in work on route running and blocking this offseason as Pitts told him: “Mentally, I feel I’ve grown. Especially before the ball is snapped. I’m still trying to get better at it, both post-snap and pre-snap, by maturing mentally first.”
Anthony Firkser has locked down the other tight end position for a team that will play two tight end sets frequently. Firkser shined against the Jets, catching two passes for 56 yards. Firkser’s comfort with Mariota is evident. Firkser has skills but will only see fantasy relevance with an injury or in the deepest leagues. Parker Hesse will likely make the roster as the blocking tight end after starting as a college defensive end and spending multiple seasons on the Titans’ practice squad. Potentially the last tight end in the room is Feleipe Franks. He played as the emergency quarterback and had a devastating strip-sack fumble returned to put the game out of reach.
The defense was the week's talk, but not in a good way. Joe Flacco looked comfortable leading the Jets' top offense all week, and Breece Hall broke off a 75-yard highlight run. The team recorded no sacks or turnovers in the game on Monday night. If there is one name worth mentioning, it is Adetokunbo Ogundeji. The second-year pass rusher has been a revelation in camp and showed up Monday night, making a run stop in the backfield and drawing a frustrating roughing the passer penalty.
There are some pieces, but this is going to be a long season on the defensive side. Safety Richie Grant drew praise for finding the ball during several periods this week; the team needs him to step up as a complimentary young piece with A.J. Terrell. Corner Dee Alford has been a camp story, a CFL standout fighting to make the roster and frequently finding the ball, but he has been forced to transform his body after weighing 160 pounds when signing, now up to 180.
The center position is still up for grabs in Atlanta, as Drew Dalman and Matt Hennessy rotate practice days as first-team starters. This rotation occurred last season, with Dalman the better run blocker but Hennessy more reliable in pass protection. Left guard Jalen Mayfield is struggling with a lower back issue, and Elijah Wilkinson might have stolen the job away during camp. Wilkinson is the better player at this stage of his career.
Updates from Week 2
The quarterback depth chart looks set, with Marcus Mariota playing one series and Desmond Ridder handling the remainder of the game. Mariota was efficient, going 2-2 for 36 yards, adding 23 rushing yards, and scoring a rushing touchdown on his only drive. Mariota will be a dark horse fantasy option if the rushing maintains. The more intriguing story is Ridder, who ESPN’s Michael Rothstein noted, “that’s the best I’ve seen Ridder all camp.” Ridder rushed five times for 59 yards, allowing the Falcons to build more designed quarterback runs for Mariota as foundational building blocks. Ridder made the game-winning throw, saying, “at that point, you have to give someone a chance. I saw it was a one-on-one matchup. I gave my guy Bernhardt a chance, and he came down with it.”
Qadree Ollison and Damien Williams worked with the starters in the first series, a potential nod to a camp battle for a spot on the depth chart with Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier. Caleb Huntley was the following back in, with Allgeier held out until the second half. Rothstein noted Ollison looked confident with the first team, averaging 6.6 yards on his way to 33. Some caution should be exercised on Allgeier’s late appearance. He has been a drumbeat in training camp, and his roster spot is safe. The team wanted to see Ollison, Williams, and Huntley working early in the game as there could only be one roster spot between the three.
Drake London’s injury will be the primary storyline coming out of this game, but NFL.com’s Bridget Condon stated, “he is ok; it was a minor injury.” However, Adam Schefter noted further testing is still needed. The team started in 12 personnel (one running back and two tight ends) with KhaDarel Hodge opposite London as Bryan Edwards missed the game. Frank Darby was the only receiver to catch more than one pass as the back end of this position is very fluid.
The early expectation has London and Pitts as the focal point, with Edwards, Firkser, and Olamide Zaccheaus rounding out the rotation.
The team will likely play 12 personnel as a base package, with Pitts and Anthony Firkser as the top tight ends. The team rotated tight ends through the first preseason game, with Parker Hesse seeing a long look, playing 39% of the snaps. Eight different tight ends saw snaps in the first game.
The starting defense struggled. The front seven is rebuilding and was gashed with frequent breakdowns. CFL star Dee Alford made the play of the game with an interception to help swing momentum. Despite early camp reports praising this unit, the defense is still a work in progress.
Cordarrelle Patterson is the best kickoff returner in league history. He's the only player named First-Team All-Pro returner four times by the Associated Press, and his six seasons on the first or second team combined is also a record. One record he still wants, though, is the one for career kickoff return touchdowns, which he currently shares with Josh Cribbs and Leon Washington at eight.
The Falcons scaled back his special teams work last season as he earned a much larger role on offense, but Patterson has been lobbying hard to get it back this year. Avery Williams is locked in as the team's punt returner and will likely also handle kickoffs if Patterson's pleas go unanswered.
Updates from Week 1
The Falcons have a bit of an open quarterback competition, though Marcus Mariota’s experience and familiarity with Arthur Smith’s offense gives him a leg up on rookie Desmond Ridder. The team held an intrasquad scrimmage on August 6th, with the quarterbacks dueling as Mariota completed 11-of-18 and Ridder 10-of-15. ESPN’s Michael Rothstein noted that Mariota felt more accurate, like it’s been all camp. The Falcons are prepping for their preseason opener against Detroit. Mariota will almost surely be the Week 1 starter. However, AtlantaFalcons.com’s Tori McElhaney questioned how much we would see him in the preseason after Matt Ryan sat in the 2021 preseason: “You didn’t need to see how Matt Ryan operated in the preseason. You already knew. With Mariota, it would be good to see him in action.” Despite the potential uncertainty at the top of the depth chart, the Falcons' quarterback roster is one of the cleanest in the league at this point. Mariota will start. Ridder will push him. Feleipe Franks will serve as the emergency quarterback as he transitions to tight end.
Falcoholic.com’s Kevin Knight presents a clear picture of the running back position on his 53-man roster projection: Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, Damien Williams, and Avery Williams. Patterson is a known commodity, and the team has significant plans for him to manage his reps daily. Patterson takes advantage of his free time, and Rothstein notes he frequently signs autographs throughout practice. Knight stated that once the pads came on, Allgeier began to separate himself from the rest of the pack: “he has shown off good vision, decisiveness, and ability to get through very small creases- plus his trademark physicality as a runner.” Damien Williams has missed portions of camp due to injury, but Knight also noted that “he has been the most effective rusher throughout practice. Williams should be a factor this season.” Avery Williams is converting from defensive back but has the lead on kick return duties and has shown as an effective receiver. Qadree Ollison and Caleb Huntley round out the roster but face an uphill battle to make the final cuts.
The wide receiver room received one of the most significant makeovers in the league this offseason. Last year Tajae Sharpe was the only receiver over 6-foot-1 to receive a target. This year the depth chart is loaded with size: Drake London (6-foot-4), Bryan Edwards (6-foot-3), and Auden Tate (6-foot-5). Knight notes that London has immediately looked the part: “London has been terrific and is going to be the unquestioned WR1 to open the season.” Despite being early in the process, the depth chart looks solidified, with Edwards as the starter opposite London in two-receiver sets and Olamide Zaccheaus as the team’s third receiver. McElhaney noted the team could keep as few as five wide receivers on the roster, a nod to the positional flexibility of players like Patterson and Kyle Pitts. Names to watch for the final roster spots include Damiere Byrd, Geronimo Allison, KhaDarel Hodge, and (Auden) Tate.
William McFadden from the Falcoholic shined a light on the dominance of Kyle Pitts: “Pitts continues to look like the best player on the field.” Fan accounts have noted Pitts has rarely lined up inline, seeing almost every snap in the slot or out wide. The rest of the roster at tight end are players like Anthony Firkser, John Fitzpatrick, and Parker Hesse. Knight notes that Mariota and Firkser have shown chemistry from their days with the Titans. The wildcard on the roster is Franks. He has been a camp standout as a college quarterback, converting to tight end. Rothstein commented: “Every day, Franks makes it into my notebook for a play he made, and he is making strides as a blocker.” Franks is a player to watch in the preseason. His versatility creates intrigue.
Camp reports have been glowing regarding the defense, though Rothstein noted the offense is breaking in new quarterbacks. A.J. Terrell has continued as an emerging star, covering London or Pitts daily. Richie Grant looks to be making significant strides at safety in his second season. SI.com’s Mike Fisher has longtime linebacker Deion Jones as a trade candidate, though the linebacker was moved to the PUP list, making an imminent deal unlikely.