Falcons Post-Draft Roster Analysis

Brian McIntyre of FalconInsider.com takes a post-draft look at the Atlanta Falcons' roster.

Roster-wise, a lot is sure to change between now and the start of training camp. Heck, a lot could change between now and the start of the rookie mini-camp on May 8th.

That said, here's a look at the locks, the guys on the bubble, and the long-shots to make the Falcons roster in 2009.

Quarterbacks

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 4
Number Kept in 2008: 3
Locks: Matt Ryan, Chris Redman, D.J. Shockley
Bubble: John Parker Wilson
Long-shots: None

With the 2008 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year at quarterback, the Falcons are set at the position until 2020, and possibly beyond. Shockley could get some competition for the 3rd quarterback spot from Wilson, who at the very least, figures to make the practice squad considering Redman and Shockley are unrestricted free agents after 2009.

Running Backs

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 7    
Number Kept in 2008: 5
Locks: Michael Turner, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling, Ovie Mughelli (FB)
Bubble: Thomas Brown
Long-Shots: None

Turner and Norwood are a good 1-2 punch out of the backfield. Snelling is a core special team player and Mughelli is the lone fullback on the roster. Brown, whose rookie season ended before it began, has an inside track on the Falcons' fifth and perhaps final, running back spot on the roster. The Falcons will certainly add bodies before August, if for no other reason than to keep Turner and Norwood fresh.

Wide Receivers

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 9
Number Kept in 2008: 6
Locks: Roddy White, Michael Jenkins, Harry Douglas, Brian Finneran
Bubble: Chandler Williams, Eric Weems
Long-Shots: Troy Bergeron, Aaron Kelly, Darren Mougey

White is coming an 88-catch, 1,300-yard season that resulted in him earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Jenkins signed a four-year, $20 million dollar contract extension in November. White and Jenkins are embedded as the starters, with second-year receiver Harry Douglas (23-320-1) expected to fill the 3rd receiver role. Finneran's size (6-5, 210) and blocking ability gives him an edge for the fourth receiver role, while Williams' return ability and Weems' contributions on specials teams will go a long way towards earning them roster spots in 2009. Bergeron had 96 touchdown receptions for the Georgia Force over the last three seasons, but will need to excel on special teams to make the 53-man roster. Undrafted rookies Kelly (6-5, 193) and Mougey (6-6, 230) are sleepers worth keeping aneye on. Mougey played both quarterback and wide receiver in college, perhaps giving the team a "Wildcat" option down the line.

Tight Ends

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 5
Number Kept in 2008: 3
Locks: Tony Gonzalez, Ben Hartsock, Justin Peelle
Bubble: Jason Rader
Long-Shots: Keith Zinger

Acquiring Gonzalez, a future Hall of Famer, for a future second-round pick was a major coup by Thomas Dimitroff. With the amount of two and three-tight end formations the Falcons' use, as long as they stay healthy, Hartsock and Peelle are safe bets to join Gonzalez in what is one of the deepest tight end groups in the NFL. If Atlanta wanted to save on salary, Rader could stick around as the 3rd tight end. Zinger has another year of practice squad eligibility remaining and could be headed back there.

Offensive Line

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 14
Number Kept in 2008: 9
Locks: Sam Baker (LT), Justin Blalock (LG), Todd McClure (OC), Harvey Dahl (RG), Tyson Clabo (RT), Brett Romberg (OC), Garrett Reynolds (OT), Ben Wilkerson (G/C)
Bubble: Quinn Ojinnaka (OT), Renardo Foster (OT), Will Svitek (OT), Mike Butterworth (OT), Alex Stepanivch (OC)
Long-Shots: Ryan Stanchek (OG), Jose Valdez (OT)

Continuity is a big component to the success of any offensive line, and Baker, Blalock, McClure, Dahl, and Clabo, under the direction of Paul Boudreau, comprised one of the Top 10 offensive lines in the NFL in 2008. Bringing that whole group back in 2009 was a priority for Dimitroff, who tendered both Dahl and Clabo at the second-round level ($1.545 million). One potential hiccup is center McClure, who is reportedly unhappy with his contract and has avoided the team's off-season workout program. Romberg, who played for Boudreau in St. Louis and Jacksonville, signed a two-year deal and could step in if the McClure situation escalates. Reynolds is a 6-8 right tackle prospect with NFL bloodlines. Wilkerson provides valuable depth and starting experience at both center and guard. Veterans Ojinnaka, Foster, Svitek and Butterworth could be competing for the swing tackle spot, while Stepanovich has an uphill struggle in his attempt to crack the Falcons' suddenly deep interior line. Stanchek and Valdez, two undrafted free agents signed by the Falcons this week, could be practice-squad candidates.

Defensive Line

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 14
Number Kept in 2008: 9
Locks: John Abraham (DE), Jamaal Anderson (DE), Jonathan Babineaux (DT), Peria Jerry (DT), Chauncey Davis (DE), Kroy Biermann (DE), Lawrence Sidbury (DE)
Bubble: Trey Lewis (DT), Vance Walker (DT), Jason Jefferson (DT)
Long-Shots: Maurice Lucas (DE), Willie Evans (DE), Tywain Myles (DT), Thomas Johnson (DT)

Abraham, Babineaux and Jerry are virtual locks to start in Week 1. Davis signed a four-year, $14 million dollar contract and will push Anderson for a starting end role opposite Abraham. Biermann was solid as a rotational end in his rookie season, and Sidbury should help improve the Falcons' pass-rush as a rookie. Lewis, Walker and Jefferson will battle for the 3rd and 4th defensive tackle spots. As long as he stays healthy, Lewis' size (6-3, 317) gives him something no other Falcons' tackle has. Walker is a 7th-round pick who could land on the practice squad. Lucas, Evans and Myles are practice squad candidates, while Johnson hasn't played in an NFL game since 2006.

Linebackers

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 8
Number Kept in 2008: 6
Locks: Curtis Lofton, Mike Peterson, Coy Wire, Stephen Nicholas, Robert James
Bubble: Tony Gilbert, Spencer Adkins
Long-Shots: Brock Christopher, Derek Nicholson

Lofton will start at middle linebacker, with Peterson manning the strong-side linebacker position vacated by Michael Boley. Wire is slated to start on the weak-side, but should be challenged by Nicholas and James for that role. Gilbert, Adkins, and undrafted rookies Christopher and Nicholson will battle for the final linebacker roster spot.

Secondary

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 15
Number Kept in 2008: 9
Locks: Chris Houston (CB), Von Hutchins (CB), Chevis Jackson (CB), Christopher Owens (CB), Erik Coleman (S), William Moore (S), Thomas DeCoud (S)
Bubble: Brent Grimes (CB), David Irons (CB), William Middleton (CB), Antoine Harris (S), Jamaal Fudge (S)
Long-Shots: Ronnie Prude (CB), Glenn Sharpe (CB), Tony Tiller (CB), Erick Brock (S), Marcus Paschal (S)

Houston started all 16 games last season, and will start at one cornerback spot this season. Hutchins, Jackson and Owens could have a three-way battle for the other starting/nickel corner roles, with Grimes, Irons and Middleton vying for the fifth corner spot. Coleman will start at one safety position, with second round pick Moore, second-year man DeCoud, Harris and Fudge competing for the other. Prude, Sharpe, Tiller, Brock, and Paschal could sneak into the one of the nine spots via special teams play. Brock, Paschal, Sharpe and Tiller are practice squad eligible.

Specialists

Number Brought to 2008 Training Camp: 4
Number Kept in 2008: 3
Locks: Jason Elam (K), Michael Koenen (P), Mike Schneck (LS)
Bubble: None
Long-Shot: Robbie Dehaze (P), Robert Shiver (LS)

There's little reason for the Falcons' specialists to change in 2009. Elam drilled 93.7% of his field goal tries, missing just once from inside 49 yards. The Falcons used the franchise tag to keep Koenen, which would've been an eye-browing raising move if not for how large a role he played in the Falcons setting an NFL record for fewest punt return yards allowed in a season (49) and his ability to put the ball into the end zone on kickoffs. Schneck has been a reliable long-snapper, but turns 32 in August and is entering the final season of a three-year deal signed in October of 2007. Perhaps this is why the team wants to take a look at Shiver, a rookie from Auburn, though no change at the position is expected this season.



Brian McIntyre lives in the Boston area. In addition to writing for FalconInsider.com, Brian maintains his own blog (www.macsfootballblog.com) and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so here.

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