Tennessee State wide receiver Chris Rowland here pulling away from Middle Tennessee defenders. 
Photo: Tennessee State Athletics
Photo: Tennessee State Athletics

Cover 9@9: 5 undrafted rookie free agents to watch

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.
1. The No Spin Zone. If the Falcons don’t get to practice because of the coronavirus pandemic, the undrafted rookies will have a really tough time making the team. 

Brent Grimes, who was scouted by former Falcons scout Bruce Plummer, was one of the best finds in franchise history. 

Of course, Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle is the all-time great undrafted player in franchise history. He went on to play five Pro Bowls after playing at Valdosta State.

Last season, tight end Jaeden Graham made the team after going undrafted out of Yale and speedy wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus was undrafted after playing at Virginia. 

Linebacker Paul Worrilow was another productive undrafted player for the Falcons from 2013-16. He played at Delaware. 

We don’t know how the undrafted rookies will get a chance to prove themselves in a virtual offseason. 

But if they do get to hit the field, here are the five undrafted rookie free agents to watch: 

» Ray Wilborn, LB/S, Ball State. The Falcons are thin a strong safety behind Keanu Neal, who shouldn’t be rushed back from a ruptured Achilles.  They played free safety Ricardo Allen at strong safety last season, and I remember him getting steamrolled by tight end George Kittle in the San Francisco game. Wilborn, who’s 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds, was moved from linebacker to safety last season for the Cardinals. The Falcons are listing him as a linebacker, but he could make the team at strong safety. He 83 tackles at safety and two interceptions. 

» Hinwa Allieu, DT, Nebraska-Kearney: Played defensive end in college. He was born in the West African country of Sierra Leone. Came to the U.S. in 2013. The Falcons appear to be sifting the focus of their pass rush to the interior of the defense. They need better play from the tackles, and maybe Allieu is sturdy enough to hold up in the A-gap and quick enough to get off blocks. At 6-5, 290, he’s long and big enough to give some guards trouble.

» Scottie Dill, RT, Memphis: He’s 6-7, 297. Started 13 games for the Tigers last season. His father, Scott Dill, played 10 seasons in the NFL (1988-97). He probably can’t push past Kaleb McGary in one offseason, but if McGary continues to struggle in pass protection, the Falcons need a better option. 

» Jared Pinkney, TE, Vanderbilt: He had a spectacular junior season when he caught 50 passes. His dropoff last season could be attributed to the dip in quarterback play. Pinkney’s stock dropped in the draft after a poor showing at the NFL scouting combine. Not having a chance to redeem himself at Vandy’s Pro Day also was a factor after he ran the slowest 40-yard dash time (4.96) of the tight end group. He helped Norcross win back-to-back Georgia state titles before signing with the Commodores. Before the senior slump and shoddy combine, it was thought that he could become an NFL starter if he improved his blocking.

» Chris Rowland, WR, Tennessee State: When you break some of Jerry Rice’s records, then you are going to get a real hard look.  Rowland, who’s 5-8 and 180 pounds, was the 2019 Black College Football Player of the Year. He set an HBCU record with 104 receptions this past season, eclipsing the mark of 103 set by Jerry Rice in 1984. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds. He could be he sleeper in what was supposed to be a historically good wide receiver class. 

2. Go vote. In 54 NFL seasons, the Falcons have amassed 365 wins in 832 games, played in 24 playoff games (winning 10) and made two Super Bowl appearances.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution continues its series determining the top four contributors — players, coaches, management or owners — for some of our professional franchises and colleges. A fan vote will be a part of the process as we get a list of 10 candidates to four.


 

3. No Big Ben Trip. The Falcons’ “home game” that was to be played in London during the 2020 season has been canceled, according to the team. 

The Falcons were set to play at the Tottenham Hotspur soccer club’s stadium in London, mostly likely against Denver.

Big Ben in London. Falcons last played in London in 2014.
Photo: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

4. Opponents. The NFL is set to release a normal 17-week schedule at 8 p.m. Thursday, with a start date of Sept. 10 and an end date of Feb. 7 for the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., according to the league.

Here’s a reminder of the Falcons’ opponents for the 2020 season: 

The away games will be at Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Carolina, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay, Minnesota and Dallas.

In the home games, the Falcons will face the Buccaneers, Saints, Panthers, Chicago, Detroit, Denver, Las Vegas and Seattle.

5. Tough schedule. The Falcons, who have posted consecutive 7-9 seasons, will play teams from the NFC North and AFC West next season. 

Only New England (.537), the New York Jets (.533), Miami (.529) and San Francisco (.528) have tougher schedules, based on the opposition’s 2019 records. The Falcons, Bills and Lions are tied for fifth at .525.

In the NFC South, Tampa Bay (.502) has the 16th toughest schedule, Carolina (.500) 18th and the Saints (.490) 24th. 

The Falcons will play six games against 2019 playoff teams, including the Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs. 

Here’s the list of the NFL’s toughest schedules, based on last season’s records:
1. New England Patriots: 137-118-1 (.537)
2. New York Jets: 136-119-1 (.533)
3. Miami Dolphins: 135-120-1 (.529)
4. San Francisco 49ers: 134-120-2 (.528) 
T5. Falcons: 134-121-1 (.525)
T5. Buffalo Bills: 134-121-1 (.525)
T5. Detroit Lions: 134-121-1 (.525)
T8. Arizona Cardinals: 132-123-1 (.518)
T8. Houston Texans: 132-123-1 (.518)
T10. Los Angeles Rams: 131-123-2 (.516)
T10. Minnesota Vikings: 131-123-2 (.516)
11. Denver Broncos: 131-125 (.512)
T13. Seattle Seahawks: 129-125-2 (.508)
T13. Chicago Bears: 129-125-2 (.508)
14. Green Bay Packers: 128-126-2 (.504)
T16. Indianapolis Colts: 128-127-1 (.502)
T16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 128-127-1 (.502)
T18. Carolina Panthers: 127-127-2 (.500)
T18. Kansas City Chiefs: 128-128 (.500)
20. Tennessee Titans: 127-128-1 (.498)
21. Las Vegas Raiders: 127-129 (.496)
22. Jacksonville Jaguars: 126-129-1 (.494)
23. Los Angeles Chargers: 126-130 (.492)
24. New Orleans Saints: 125-130-1 (.490)
25. Philadelphia Eagles: 124-131-1 (.486)
26. New York Giants: 123-132-1 (.482)
27. Cincinnati Bengals: 122-134 (.477)
28. Washington Redskins: 118-136-2 (.465)
29. Cleveland Browns: 118-138 (.461)
30. Dallas Cowboys: 117-138-1 (.459)
31. Pittsburgh Steelers: 117-139 (.457)
32. Baltimore Ravens: 112-144 (.438)

6. Falcons blocked trade. The Denver Broncos were set to make a deal with the New York Jets to move up to the 79th slot in the NFL draft, but the deal was nixed when the Falcons selected Temple center Matt Hennessy with the 78th pick, according to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News

In the third round, the Jets were going to drop from 79th to 83rd so the Broncos could take Hennessy, whose brother, Thomas, is the Jets’ long snapper. 

The Broncos selected LSU center Lloyd Cushenberry with the 83rd pick. The Jets took former Florida and Sprayberry High standout Jabari Zuniga

The Jets were going to pick up a late fifth-round pick in the deal.

Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett talks about the team's additions on defense as well his efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Video by D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC)

7. A deeper look at the Harris trade. Can Charles Harris get his career on track here with the Falcons after three lackluster seasons with the Dolphins. 

Harris was drafted with the 22nd overall pick in the 2017 draft, but only had 3.5 sacks with the Dolphins. 

Harris, 25, who played at Missouri, is set to make $1.943 million in base salary in 2020. 

Harris has played in 41 games and made eight starts. He played in 14 games and made five starts last season. He had 23 quarterback hits to go with 61 tackles and 10 tackles for loss. 

Harris, 6-3 and 252 pounds, will add some depth at the defensive end position.

The Falcons signed Fowler to a three-year $48 million deal in free agency. Defensive end Takk McKinley is trying to make it back from his third shoulder surgery.

In the 2017 draft, Harris was the fifth-rated defensive end behind Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, McKinley and T.J. Watt. Garrett and Watt have developed into Pro Bowl players and Watt was All-Pro last season. 

In addition to Fowler and McKinley, the Falcons have defensive ends Allen Bailey, Steven Means, Austin Larkin and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner on the roster. They also drafted Auburn defensive end Marlon Davidson, but plan to play him at defensive tackle. 

The Falcons also signed undrafted rookie free agent defensive ends in Ferris State’s Austin Edwards and Oregon’s Bryson Young. 

8. Review AJC’s position-by-position 2020 NFL draft series. Below are the links to the AJC’s 12-part position-by-position draft series. 

AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES

Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads classTop 10
Running backs: Cam Akers’ life lessonTop 10
Tight ends: Harrison Bryant top prospect Top 10 
Guards/Centers: Solomon Kindley a late-rounderTop 10 
Offensive tackles: Austin Jackson’s life lessonTop 10 
Wide receivers: Jeudy or LambTop 10
Defensive tackles: Brown, Kinlaw stand outTop 10
Defensive ends: A ‘generational’ talentTop 10
Linebackers: Simmons a position-less LBTop 10
Safeties: Loaded with Georgia talentTop 10
Special teams: Georgia’s kick-centeredReturner with flashTop 10
Cornerbacks: Jeff Okudah a lockdown CBTop 10

9. Depth chart. We’ve added the undrafted rookie free agents to the depth chart this week:

Here’s a look at the Falcons’ updated depth chart:

OFFENSE

WR 11 Julio Jones, 13 Christian Blake, 19 Devin Gray, 80 Laquon Treadwell, Chris Rowland, Juwan Green 
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 75 John Wetzel, Hunter Atkinson 
LG 61 Matt Hennessy, 73 Matt Gono, 77 James Carpenter, 64 Sean Harlow
C 51 Alex Mack, 61 Matt Hennessy, 64 Sean Harlow, Austin Capps
RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 68 Jamon Brown, 65 Justin McCray, Justin Gooseberry
RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 65 Justin McCray, Scottie Dill, Evin Ksiezarczyk
TE 81 Hayden Hurst, 86 Khari Lee, 87 Jaeden Graham, 85 Carson Meier, Jared Pinkney, Caleb Repp
WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 15 Brandon Powell, Jalen McCleskey
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 6 Kurt Benkert, 16 Danny Etling 
RB 21 Todd Gurley, 25 Ito Smith, 30 Qadree Ollison, 23 Brian Hill, 42 Craig Reynolds
FB 40 Keith Smith, Mikey Daniel 

DEFENSE 

DE 56 Dante Fowler, 53 Austin Larkin, Bryson Young
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 50 John Cominsky, Hinwa Allieu 
DT 96 Tyeler Davison, 90 Marlon Davidson, 94 Deadrin Senat, Sailosi Latu
DE 93 Allen Bailey, 55 Steven Means, 53 Austin Larkin 
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
LB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 46 Edmond Robinson, 52 Ahmad Thomas, Jordan Williams 
LB 45 Deion Jones, 59 LaRoy Reynolds, 43 Mykal Walker, Ray Wilborn
RCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 29 Josh Hawkins, 39 C.J. Reavis, Delrick Abrams, Tyler Hall 
LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 28 Jordan Miller, Rojesterman Farris
NCB 20 Kendall Sheffield, 34 Chris Cooper
SS 37 Ricardo Allen, 22 Keanu Neal, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 35 Jamal Carter 
FS 27 Damontae Kazee, 37 Ricardo Allen, 41 Sharrod Neasman 

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo
KO 7 Younghoe Koo
P 9 Ryan Allen, 4 Sterling Hofrichter
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 9 Ryan Allen
KOR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus
PR 15 Brandon Powell, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus

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About the Author

D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter
D. Orlando Ledbetter is the Atlanta Falcons beat writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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