The Falcons roster: Should they stay or go? 


Two yards away.

The Falcons were just two yards away from advancing to their second consecutive NFC championship this season.

After finishing 11-7 overall, it was just the third time in franchise history that teams posted back-to-back 10-win seasons. After the past two seasons, they join coach Mike Smith’s teams from 2010-12 that did it three straight years.

“We are positioned well for the future,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I like what we did last year consistently on defense. Obviously, the offense was not consistently (very good).”

The Falcons like their team and want to keep in mostly in place, but the shifting market for quarterbacks and the pending extension for Matt Ryan could alter their long-term plans. 

After reaching Super Bowl LI, the Falcons replaced 15 players on the 53-man roster last season, a 28.3 percent turnover rate. 

The Falcons would like to add some help for the offensive line, some depth at wide receiver and return some key free agents. 

Here’s a look at every player on the Falcons roster, with beat writer D. Orlando Ledbetter’s opinion on whether he should stay or go:

OFFENSE 

QUARTERBACKS 

Matt Ryan: Stay

Ryan is scheduled to make $19.25 million in 2018, but the team is looking for a team-friendly extension. Ryan’s play remained at an high level event with receivers’ dropped passes, shaky pass protection and disturbing play-calling slowed the offense. Ryan completed 342 of 529 passes (64.7 percent) for 4,095 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Ryan threw 18 fewer touchdown passes and five more interceptions the his previous NFL MVP season. His 20 touchdown passes were his lowest since he tossed 16 as a rookie in 2008. His spike in interceptions came from seven dropped or tipped passes by his receivers, who led the league in dropped passes. The Falcons know that Ryan is most effective when he can step up in the pocket and deliver the ball. With shaky play from guards Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, Ryan rarely had a firm pocket. 

Matt Schaub: Stay

Schaub, who’ll turn 37 in June, played in four games and completed 1 of 3 passes in 2016 and did not take a snap last season. He’s set to enter the last year of his contract, which has a $2.75 base salary with a $1.5 roster bonus. Can he carry the Falcons if something happens to Ryan? It may be time to draft Ryan’s understudy for when Schaub eventually retires.

> Vote:  Who should stay or go on Falcons’ offense

RUNNING BACKS 

Devonta Freeman: Stay

Freeman had another pass-protection blunder in the postseason as he whiffed on a block against the Eagles that was costly. It was similar to his miss of Dont’a Hightower in the Super Bowl. He was slowed by a two concussions and a knee injury. He missed three games and failed to reach 1,000 yards rushing after two consecutive seasons of more than the mark. 

Tevin Coleman: Stay

Coleman had 156 carries for 628 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 27 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. The Falcons need to run more stretch outside-zone runs with Coleman.

Terron Ward: Stay

Ward is a dependable backup and special-teamer. He will be remembered as the target for Ryan’s failed shovel pass against the Eagles in the playoffs. 

Terrence Magee: Go 

Magee was signed as late-season insurance policy. 

Derrick Coleman: Stay 

The team needs to add another lead blocking fullback (cut one of the receivers). The Falcons aveaged just 3.4 yards on 17 power plays (out of 429 runs). Keep Coleman for his play on special teams as he had a team-leading 16 special teams tackles. He didn’t help the offense as a pass-catcher nor in short-yardage. 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Julio Jones: Stay

Jones, who had offseason foot surgery and never looked close to his best. He had a 59.5 percent catch ratio (148 targets, 88 catches), which was the second-lowest since his rookie season, when he had a 56.8 percent catch ratio. Jones caught only 6 of 22 passes (27 percent) thrown to him inside the 20-yard line for one touchdown. By comparison, the Steelers’ Antonio Brown caught 13 of 23 (56.5 percent) of his passes in the red zone for six touchdowns. Jones finished with 1,444 yards and three touchdowns, with only two thrown by Ryan. Jones had a league-leading seven dropped passes.

Mohamed Sanu: Stay

Sanu had a 69.8 percent catch ratio as he hauled in 67 of 96 targets, had 703 yards receiving and tied a career-high with five touchdowns. Sanu had six dropped passes.

Taylor Gabriel: Go

Gabriel had a major dropoff and should be replaced. In 2016, Gabriel had 11 plays of 19 yards or more and five long touchdowns (76, 64, 47, 35 and 25 yards.) He had only one touchdown last season, which went for 40 yards. He only had four plays for 19 yards or more and trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. 

Justin Hardy: Stay

Keep him for special teams. 

Nick Williams: Go

He’s a tease. Has the speed, but always makes a mis-step when it’s time to make a play.

Marvin Hall: Stay

He’s tough and a fighter. Would like to see him in the slot role that Gabriel occupied. 

TIGHT ENDS

Austin Hooper: Stay

It’s too early to give up on Hooper. He has to get his head together. He came off as a obnoxious off the field and inconsistent on it too often last season. Ryan appeared to lose confidence in him. If they can’t reconnect, then get in the tight end market next season. He caught 49 of 65 targets (75.4 percent catch rate) for 526 yards and three touchdowns. He had 265 yards after the catch. He didn’t fight back to the ball on a memorable play against Miami and had three drops, two of which led to interceptions.

Levine Toilolo: Stay

He’s essentially a blocking tight end. He caught 12 of his 14 targets for 122 yards and one touchdown. He’s important to the outside-zone running scheme.

Eric Saubert: Stay 

Saubert needs to compete against Hooper for the starting position. If he can’t push Hooper, then get someone else. He played 30 snaps on offense and 212 on special teams. 

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

Jake Matthews: Stay

Continues to play at a high, but not elite level. He was rated as the 14th best left tackle in the league and received an 80.8 rating by profootballfocus.com for his 2017 showing. 

Andy Levitre: Stay

He was rated as average and the 17th rated left guard in the league. He has a $7 million base salary for 2018 and an $8.375 million cap number. The Falcons can save $7 million on the cap by cutting Levitre. But the team still needs him given the porous play of backup Ben Garland and first-year starter Wes Schweitzer. Look for the team to re-negotiate a new deal with Levitre, who turns 32 in May.

Alex Mack: Stay 

Stud. Clone him.

Wes Schweitzer: Stay

He improved as the season progressed. However his overall play was regarded as poor and he was ranked at the 54th best guard in the NFL, by profootballfocus.com.

Ryan Schraeder: Stay

Schraeder received a rating of 77.5 and was the 29th rated right tackle. He missed some time with a concussion.  

Ben Garland: Go

He was not up to par. He lost the battle with Schweitzer for the starting right guard position. He had a 44.6 profootballfocus rating.

Sean Harlow: Stay

He was inactive all season, but will get his shot this season. 

Ty Sambrailo: Stay

He has played and is a respectable reserve as a swing tackle.

Austin Pasztor: Go 

The team must upgrade the line and can use this roster slot for a more talented player. 

> Vote:  Who should stay or go on Falcons’ offense

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN

Brooks Reed: Stay

He’s steady, but doesn’t justify his $5.4 million cap number. Team can pick up $3.56 in cap space by releasing him. 

Grady Jarrett: Stay

Emerging player in the league after being selected in the fifth round. He played 870 snaps and had 39 pressures last season. 

Dontari Poe: Stay 

Poe played last season on an incentive-laden contract, which had a base salary of $8 million. He bet on himself and had a solid season. He played 868 defensive snaps, the second highest on the team behind Jarrett’s 870. He also played eight snaps on offense. 

Adrian Clayborn: Stay

Clayborn led the team in sacks (10.5) and his relentless style is infectious. He played 576 snaps, the third-highest total along the defensive line.

Derrick Shelby: Stay 

He played 397 snaps (37.8 percent) and had 30 tackles, four tackles for losses, two quarterback hits and one sack. 

Takkarist McKinley: Stay

The Falcons have big plans for McKinley and that, in part, is why they can part ways with Reed. He played 401 defensive snaps (38 percent) and made 20 tackles, 10 quarterback hits, six sacks, six tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He had offseason shoulder surgery.  

Courtney Upshaw: Stay

Should be retained with a modest free-agent contract. Played 200 snaps (19 percent) last season.

Ahtyba Rubin: Stay 

Helps as a run stuffer. If Jack Crawford returns healthy, he’s expendable. 

> Vote: Who should stay or go on Falcons’ defense

LINEBACKERS

Deion Jones: Stay

He continued to emerge as he led the team in tackles with 138. He also had three interceptions and was a alternate Pro bowl selection.  

Vic Beasley: Stay

Beasley’s sack total fell from an NFL-leading 15.5 to five last season. An expermential move to strongside linebacker is over and he’s headed back to defensive end.

DeVondre Campbell: Stay 

The versatile Campbell helped the Falcons cover tight ends better. He was third on the team with 93 tackles. 

Duke Riley: Stay

The experiment to start Riley at weakside linebacker didn’t last long as the rookie missed too many tackles and ended the season as a reserve and special-teams player.

Sean Weatherspoon: Go

The veteran former first-round pick provided insurance last season. He only played six defensive snaps.

Kemal Ishmael: Go

The team can upgrade the depth at the position from a draft pick with a more promising future. 

LaRoy Reynolds: Stay

Key special teamer. Has speed that helps in practice.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Desmond Trufant: Stay 

Trufant showed signs of slippage late in the season as he was beaten deep by the Saints’ Ted Ginn and gave up big gainers to the Rams’ Robert Woods and Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery, who beat him on slant routes. He’ll need to have a bounce-back season in 2018 as teams are no longer afraid to throw to his side.

Keanu Neal: Stay

He was second on the team in tackles with 113 and continued to provide a physical presence with his bone-rattling tackles. He had a key dropped interception in the divisional playoff round loss to the Eagles. 

Ricardo Allen: Stay

He’s a restricted free agent. He had 54 tackles and one interception. Played some nickel back in a pinch. Could get pushed by Kazee. 

Robert Alford: Stay

Alford led the team with seven penalties. He had five holding calls and two pass-interference penalties. He had 75 nullified yards in penalties. Alford broke up 20 passes, but had only one interception.

Brian Poole: Stay

He finished with 54 tackles while playing nickel back. He’s tough in the slot and teams don’t try to test him often.

Blidi Wreh-Wilson: Stay 

The former third-round draft pick by Tennessee, climbed his way up the depth chart over the course of the season and earned the trust of the coaching staff.  

Leon McFadden: Go

The Falcons can draft someone to man this spot.

Damontae Kazee: Stay 

Showed flashes of his hitting ability as a rookie while making the conversion from cornerback to free safety. May be the future starter at the position as the team will not be able to retain all of the defensive starters. 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Matt Bryant: Stay

Bryant will turn 43 on May 29, but showed no signs of slowing down. He was the Falcons’ key weapon late in the season as the offense struggled in the red zone. The Falcons want to re-sign Bryant, who was 11th-highest paid kicker in the league last season, at $1.45 million. The Panthers’ Graham Gano and the Cowboys’ Dan Bailey were the top-paid kickers, at $3.2 million. Bryant is in line for a big raise. 

Matt Bosher: Stay

Bosher averaged 44.9 yards on 53 punts with a net average of 40.8 yards. He placed 19 punts down inside the 20-yard line. 

Josh Harris: Stay

He’s a pinpoint snapper. 

Andre Roberts: Stay 

Roberts was a steady returner, but several special-teams penalties marred his efforts.

> Vote: Who should stay or go on Falcons’ defense

 

 


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