A look at the Falcons’ 90-man roster heading into minicamp

FLOWERY BRANCH — The new-look Falcons have undergone a major roster overhaul this offseason, and coach Arthur Smith has retooled his defensive coaching staff.

The Falcons added to the backfield in the draft and revamped the defensive front, secondary and wide receiver positions heading into the team’s mandatory minicamp, which is set to run Monday through Thursday.

The minicamp is the final work of the offseason before the team reconvenes for the start of training camp in late July. The action would be the same as the non-contact OTAs, but with more players on hand.

Smith also added several longtime assistant coaches to help return the Falcons to respectability.

Assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray was one of his key hires.

“The big thing is that I knew Arthur when we were in Washington together,” Gray said. “Then we hooked back up against in Tennessee when I was a coordinator. I know his philosophy. I know what he stands for.”

Smith tried to hire Gray on his initial staff, but Green Bay blocked the move.

“You know that he wants to win,” Gray said. “Winning is important to him. I want to help him win. That’s really what I want to do, help him understand that you’ve got your team to a point where, this is your third year. Guys have got to buy into the culture. We are bringing good players in. ... Now if I can help you with my expertise on the back end, I (was) willing and ready to go.”

The Falcons ran the ball at an elite level last season, but the offense’s passing game was ranked 31st in the NFL.

The defense, which didn’t rush the passer or stop the run well, showed some promise late by holding teams to 18.6 points per game over the final six outings. The Falcons are counting on safety Jessie Bates III, who received a four-year, $64 million contract, to help elevate the defense.

“I think he’s someone that we can all lean on from his experiences in the NFL,” Falcons cornerback Jeff Okudah said. “I think being able to let us know what he sees back there. ... (Bates) has a bigger view of what the offense is trying to accomplish. He’s been impactful for some of the younger guys in the room.”

Here’s a look at the Falcons’ 90-man roster heading into the mandatory minicamp and some of the potential training-camp battles (players who ended the season on injured reserve have an asterisk by their name):

Quarterbacks: Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside and Austin Aune.

Outlook: Ridder was named the starter this offseason and will be charged with getting the passing attack going. Heinicke was signed to be the backup.

“Taylor’s been a great addition to the room, and I go on record, too, (that) Logan Woodside’s done a nice job, too,” Smith said. “Those things are what you have to take into consideration; the rules change, right? If that’s the way we want to go, we certainly haven’t made that decision now, but if you want to dress three quarterbacks, they got to be on your (53-man roster for the season).”

Running backs: Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, *Caleb Huntley and Carlos Washington Jr. Fullbacks: Keith Smith and Clint Ratkovich.

Outlook: Allgeier and Robinson will be used in a committee approach. Williams sustained a torn ACL on June 2 and is out of the season. Patterson, who turned 32 in March, could give some relief while Huntley battles back from a ruptured Achilles. “The day and age of just having one back and he gets the main carries, or whatever you want to call it, that no longer exists,” Falcons running backs coach Michael Pitre said. “I think when you are able to add a player like Bijan to the (group), it’s just giving us another explosive athlete that we’re able to utilize in the offense to make it stressful for the defense.”

Wide receivers: Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge, Frank Darby, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Justin Marshall, Slade Bolden, Josh Ali, Keilahn Harris and Xavier Malone.

Outlook: London had a strong rookie season. Hollins and Miller mostly were backups with their former teams. Someone needs to step forward opposite of London. One candidate in addition to Hollins could be Arcega-Whiteside, who was a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2019. He is trying to revive his career.

Tight ends: *Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick and Tucker Fisk.

Outlook: Pitts is trying to make it back from knee surgery and was hurt more than the team led on last season. “He played a little banged up,” Smith said at the owner’s meetings. “Obviously, didn’t finish the year.” The Falcons are expecting Pitts to have a bounce-back season, which would help lift the passing attack. Smith was acquired in a trade with the Patriots. Hesse, Franks, Fisk and Fitzpatrick will battle for the third spot.

Offensive tackles: Jake Matthews, Kaleb McGary, Barry Wesley, Tyler Vrabel, Joshua Miles, *Jalen Mayfield and Ethan Greenidge. Guards: Chris Lindstrom, Matt Hennessy, Matthew Bergeron, Kyle Hinton and *Justin Shaffer. Centers: Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison and Jovaughn Gwyn.

Outlook: The keys will be how quickly coach Dwayne Ledford can get rookie Bergeron up to speed at left guard and if McGary will hold up in pass protection. McGary got his career on track last season with some strong run blocking. Also, Dalman should improve in his second season as a starter. Mayfield has been moved back to tackle after missing all of last season.


Defensive tackles: Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata, Timothy Horne, LaCale London, Eddie Goldman, *Ta’Quon Graham, Carlos Davis, Joe Gaziano and Ikenna Enechukwu.

Outlook: Onyemata was signed in free agency to add some stoutness to the front. Goldman came out of retirement and could provide some depth while Graham battles back from knee surgery. Horne, who made the team as an undrafted rookie last season, will have to hold off challengers.

Outside linebackers/defensive ends: Lorenzo Carter, Calais Campbell, Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Bud Dupree, DeAngelo Malone and Zach Harrison.

Outlook: Campbell, who has 99 career sacks, is expected to play 60% of the snaps. Ebiketie had 2.5 sacks and 11 quarterback hits last season. He said he “lost a lot of money” last season with his missed sacks opportunities. He could be the breakout player for the unit. Ogundeji has been a stout edge-setter while Carter is a savvy veteran. Dupree, who hopes to return to full health, has not played a full season since 2019. Harrison can learn the ropes from Campbell.

Inside linebackers: Troy Andersen, Kaden Elliss, Mykal Walker, Dorian Etheridge, Tae Davis, Andre Smith Jr., Nate Landman and Mike Jones Jr.

Outlook: Elliss signed in free agency and has some pass-rush ability. Andersen is a candidate to be the breakout player on defense. Walker has been dependable, and Etheridge shined during the 2021 exhibition season before sustaining an injury.

Cornerbacks: A.J. Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Cornell Armstrong, Clark Phillips III, Tre Flowers, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, Breon Borders and Natrone Brooks.

Outlook: The Falcons are hoping to revive Okudah’s career after his injury-filled slow start with the Lions. There is plenty of quality depth in Armstrong, Flowers, Alford and Hall. Borders has been with six teams. Hall will be in a battle to retain his roster spot. Hughes, Alford and Phillips are the candidates at nickel back.

Safeties: Jessie Bates III, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, DeMarcco Hellams, Micah Abernathy, Lukas Denis and Clifford Chattman.

Outlook: Bates gives the Falcons some versatility and the ability to play a “Big Nickel” package with three safeties. The Falcons hope his ball skills leads to more turnovers. He also could teach some players how to succeed through film study. “I was around Harrison Smith, who really wasn’t a fast guy, but he got his hands on a lot of balls,” Gray said. “It was from studying. When you study and your brain moves faster ... you get in position to play faster. So, that’s kind of what my philosophy is, to get guys to understand the philosophy of the game, what they are trying to do to you on offense. When they study that, they can take it to the field, believe what they see and go make a play.”


Kicker: Younghoe Koo

Punter/Holder: Bradley Pinion

Long snapper: Liam McCullough

Punt returner: Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Penny Hart or Josh Ali.

Kickoff returner: Cordarrelle Patterson.

Outlook: The Falcons’ special-teams units improved dramatically from 2021 to 2022 as they jumped from 22nd to 10th in the league in the annual special-team rankings by longtime NFL writer Rick Gosselin. The kicking game remains in place after Pinion and McCullough were re-signed. Can Patterson keep going or will the new kickoff return rules slow him down? Also, Mike Ford, one of the key special-teams players, was not resigned.



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