The Atlanta Falcons will cut its roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET Saturday. Here’s a projection:
Ryan, 34, looks to start all 16 games for the 10th consecutive season, while 38-year-old backup Schaub’s last NFL start was a 15-13 loss to the Dolphins as a Baltimore Raven in December of 2015. Ryan should surpass 50,000 career passing yards by season’s end.
Freeman, who played in two games because of various injuries last season, looks to recapture his Pro Bowl form from 2015-16 when he reached 1,500 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons. Ollison could be the short-yardage guy. Barner and Smith can double as return specialists.
Jones, who boasts the highest average for receiving yards per game in NFL history at 99.9, seeks a sixth-straight season of 80-plus catches and 1,400-plus yards. Ridley could be in for a massive second year.
Hooper, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, should be a serious red zone threat, while Stocker could double as a blocking fullback and inline blocker in the heavy package. All three guys allow for the Falcons to run more two- and even three-TE sets when needed.
The right side of the line will be an area to watch immediately. Rookie first-rounder Lindstrom will be seeing his first NFL action at right guard while fellow first-rounder McGary, coming off a heart procedure, probably will need a little time to supplant the vet Sambrailo -- or perhaps the second-year Gono -- as the starting right tackle. The perennial Pro Bowler Mack is the anchor.
While the majority of the criticism is pointed toward one-time sack champ Beasley having just five sacks each of the last two seasons after 15.5 in 2016, the rusher to watch could be McKinley coming off last year’s seven-sack effort. The coaches believe McKinley is ready to make that next step. Jarrett, fresh off a new $68 million contract, makes everything work as a menace on the interior.
Jones, with a new four-year, $57 million contract, should be back to full strength after last year’s foot injury and might be one of the fastest linebackers in the league. His coverage skills are elite. Campbell was the team’s best tackler last season, while the veteran Carter gives the Falcons a bigger body when opposing offenses want to go with heavy packages.
Trufant seems to have his swagger back and has to hold up as the only outside corner with real-time experience. Oliver is the guy on the spot in his second year as a first-time starter. The playmaking Kazee is shifting from free safety. And the rookie Sheffield might have the most upside of them all with his blazing speed and ability to play inside and out. How Allen (Achilles) and Neal (ACL) perform coming off last year’s season-ending injuries might be the biggest factors that determine the success of the defense. Allen’s role as a “eraser’’ and his ability to facilitate communication are extremely key, while Neal is the enforcer as the in-the-box safety.
Tavecchio has had some hiccups during the preseason, causing coach Dan Quinn to re-evaluate the kicking situation and take a long look a veteran Blair Walsh. But Tavecchio knows what he needs to correct and will fix it.