The Falcons have signed their rookie class, and the 90-man roster is set as the team is ready to start OTAs on Monday.
OTAs — Organized Team Activities — are the start of Phase 3 of the NFL offseason per the rules of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement.
Here’s a look at the returners, newcomers, departures and the roster competitions on offense:
Returners: Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Kurt Benkert.
Roster competitions: Ryan is the starter. Benkert, who should get a lot of action with five exhibition games, needs to show that he can be the heir apparent to Schaub, who was re-signed to a two-year $3.78 million deal on March 5.
Benkert received at hefty $60,000 signing bonus in 2018. The biggest bonus was for an undrafted player was $15,000 in 2019, so the Falcons liked him as a prospect.
After a year of seasoning, Benkert’s numbers should improve from last season, when he completed 28 of 64 passes (43.9%) for 347 yards and no touchdowns. He threw four interceptions and had a minuscule quarterback rating of 35.1.
Returners: Devonta Freeman, Ito Smith, Brian Hill and Ricky Ortiz.
The Falcons have committed a lot of resources to reviving their rushing attack this offseason. Everything will turn on whether Freeman can regain his form after two injury-riddled seasons. He’s only 28 and should have something left in the tank.
He battled knee, groin and foot injuries last season and played in only two games. He was placed on injured reserve after having sports hernia/groin surgery and didn’t return.
Smith showed promise last season before he underwent knee surgery after 13 games.
Newcomers: Kenjon Barner, Qadree Ollison, Tony Brooks-James, Marcus Green and Luke Stocker.
Departures: Tevin Coleman and Jeremy Langford.
Roster competitions: Freeman and Smith are projected to be the top two backs, then things get interesting. Can Hill hold off rookie Ollison for the third running back spot? Can Ortiz beat out tight end/fullback Luke Stocker as the lead blocker? Can Green beat out the veteran Barner for the kickoff returner and possibly punt returner spots? Brooks-James earned a roster spot after coming to the rookie minicamp as a tryout player.
Returners: Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Justin Hardy, Russell Gage and Calvin Ridley.
Jones, Sanu and Ridley could be the most dynamic trio in the league.
The Falcons are still working on a contract extension for Jones. Ridley needs to continue to improve after a stellar rookie season, while Sanu has to block out those Internet rumors that the team tried to trade him that surfaced on former NFL executive Michael Lombardi’s podcast. The team has neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.
Newcomers: Christian Blake, Shawn Bane, Devin Gray, Kahlil Lewis, C.J. Worton, Olamide Zaccheaus.
Blake and Gray were on the practice squad last season.
Departures: Marvin Hall.
Roster competitions: Spots four through six are open. Hardy and Gage will have to hold off the challengers by continuing to shine on special teams. Undrafted rookies Worton and Zaccheaus received $5,000 signing bonuses, while Bane received $1,500.
Returners: Austin Hooper, Logan Paulsen, Eric Saubert and Alex Gray.
The Falcons need Hooper to follow-up his breakthrough Pro Bowl season with another strong campaign. Paulsen was a dependable blocker last season.
Newcomers: Luke Stocker and Jaeden Graham.
Roster competitions: The Falcons could keep four tight ends because Stocker can also play fullback and be a lead blocker. Saubert, who’s up to 253 pounds, will have to impress new tight ends coach Mike Mularkey with his in-line blocking if he’s going to stick around.
Returners: Alex Mack, Jake Matthews, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, Wes Schweitzer and Sean Harlow.
Newcomers: John Wetzel, Lanard Bonner, Jaelin Robinson, Chandler Miller, Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, Adam Gettis, Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary and Devon Johnson.
Departures: Andy Levitre, Ben Garland, Brandon Fusco, Zane Beadles and Ryan Schraeder.
Levitre, Fusco and Schraeder started the season opener last year.
Roster competitions: The Falcons will replace three-fifths of their starting linemen this season.
The Falcons contend they are still running outside- and inside-zone scheme, but why did they sign the power-blocking Carpenter?
“He’s very scheme specific,” said Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy, whose stay in Seattle as a scout overlapped with Carpenter. “If you’re a team that likes to run the football and come off the ball, where he can just get his big body on people and move them right away, he’s fine. ... If they are running a lot of zone splits and wide-zone stuff where he’s got to get out lateral or in space and move, then it’s probably not going to be a good fit. ... They wouldn’t have signed him to do something that he’s not good at.”
Carpenter is a left guard, while rookies Lindstrom and McGary could end up on the right side.
Could the Falcons go with a platoon at left guard?
Sambrailio started the last game of the season at left guard and could be the running outside-zone guard. When the Falcons want to run power, they could put Carpenter in.
Offensive line coach Chris Morgan told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we have a plan.”
Where would this leave Brown, who received a $5.5 million signing bonus?
The offensive line combinations will be monitored closely this offseason as the Falcons retool the unit and try to get two first-round picks on the field.
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