Between Free Agency, the 2021 NFL Draft, and all the Undrafted Free Agents that the Atlanta Falcons signed this season, we have so many new players and faces. Since we already graded the draft class, which you can see here:
Every season we find some preseason stars versus some grizzled veteran. And today we are going to look into the biggest battles that we will hopefully be seeing. I have taken a look at the depth chart and here are the battles that I think could be the most interesting and impactful for our upcoming season:
Darren Hall vs Isaiah Oliver (Nickelback)
Isaiah Oliver the former 2nd round pick has been a guy that a lot of Falcons fans have mixed feelings about his play at this point in his career. Oliver struggled as a true boundary corner under Dan Quinn, but really started to thrive under Raheem Morris when Morris moved Oliver to the Nickelback position in the Falcons defense. Oliver was a guy that many Falcons fans penciled in as a starter, but that was before we drafted Darren Hall out of San Diego State in the 4th round. Hall is a DB who can play both nickel and outside. Adding a guy like Hall feels like a way to potentially move on from Oliver when his contract ends, but as a team who is in cap hell, there needs to be a camp battle between Hall and Oliver.
Looking at this battle, it feels like it’s Oliver’s position to lose due to him having experience at the position and showing some adequate growth last season as he started to jump into rhythm at Nickel. But Hall could easily provide pressure on Oliver if Oliver starts off slow. Which is what it seems like this new regime is going for in its roster building philosophy, by adding positional battles across the board.
If Hall wins, the Falcons would have the freedom to cut Oliver to save some cap space. That is mentioned because if the battle is close, the regime could lean Hall over Oliver to save a few bucks. This battle will be incredibly interesting to watch to see who wins the Nickelback for the Dean Pees defense.
John Cominsky vs Marlon Davidson vs Johnathan Bullard vs Ta’Quon Graham (Defensive End)
This battle is going to be my absolute favorite battle to be watching this training camp. Right now we are looking at the Falcons base defense, it’s a 3/4 hybrid defense, which will be featuring multiple fronts and multiple looks. In the 3/4, we already have one of the 5Tech positions locked down with Grady Jarrett. And on the other side we have an opening. Competing for that spot opposite of Grady Jarrett will be; John Cominsky, Marlon Davidson, Ta’Quon Graham, and Johnathan Bullard. When looking at each of these guys, it really turns into a wide open battle. Johnathan Bullard is the veteran presence that comes from in through FA, Davidson is a former 2nd round pick, Cominsky is a guy who has had solid reps for us, and Ta’Quon Graham is a guy we drafted.
The battle is wide open for the other starting spot opposite of Grady Jarrett. The favorite feels like it should be Marlon Davidson, but he also only had 132 snaps all of last season. Due to the lack of an established presence opposite of Grady Jarrett, it will make this positional battle incredibly entertaining.
Matt Hennessy vs Drew Dalman (Center)
The Alex Mack era is over in Atlanta, and we have two young centers competing for the center position. Hopefully this won’t be like the post Todd McClure era where we struggled to stabilize the position between Joe “Brawley” Hawley, James Stone, and Peter Konz. Dalman and Hennessy are both mid round grades without any NFL experience there. But Dalman and Hennessy is a much watch battle. When looking at the interior defensive lineman in the NFC South there are Vita Vea and Derrick Brown who we see twice a year.
The Center position is one of the most important in all of football. Having the young guys in Hennessy and Dalman gives us the ability to solidify it. Hennessy may have struggled last season during his time at guard but his PFF grades at center graded out at an average level. However it was only based on two different games at center.
Jalen Mayfield vs Matt Gono (Left Guard)
Once again, a position the Falcons have really struggled to fill since the retirement of a longtime starter in Justin Blalock. They had a couple of stop gaps in Chris Chester and Andy Levitre but nothing long-term. The Falcons used a 3rd round pick on Tackle turning to Guard, Jalen Mayfield out of Michigan. Michigan is the most “controversial” pick of the Falcons draft class. Mayfield is talented and could develop into a talented guard for our team going forward due to his ability at the second level.
The biggest knock on Mayfield is the fact he is beyond raw. Which means he could easily not be ready for Week 1. Which would give someone like Matt Gono a real opportunity to step in and be the starter week 1. With Gono, he provides a real safe option at guard with a guy that probably won’t make a huge difference, just won’t make a ton of mistakes.
This battle will be wild because Mayfield has the tools to succeed at guard, we are just going to have to risk having a super inexperienced interior part of the interior offensive line between the Left Guard and Center spots. Which could be a real issue for Matt Ryan with interior pressure.
Barkevious Mingo vs Steven Means vs Jacob Tuioti-Marnier vs Adebtokunbo Ogundeji (EDGE)
Dear God I hope the Falcons can get one of these guys to become a decent edge. They haven’t had a good EDGE presence since John Abraham in 2012. They have Dante Fowler Jr. who a lot of people are penciling in as one of the starters. Which leaves Mingo, Means, JTM, and Ogundeji competing for the other starting spot.
Defensive line guru and Falcons super fan Adam Holloway (@Damski32 on Twitter) adores Ogundeji saying: “Ogundeji who is moving to OLB has a fantastic repertoire of pass rush moves the he’s able to use. He uses length to get off of OT’s, although he struggles with elite bend, he’s able to power his ways through OT’s and disrupt passing lanes with his large wingspan.”
But even though there are thoughts of him becoming successful at the next level, starting a late round pick always brings a cause of concern. Especially in a hybrid and complex scheme like Dean Pees’s. Which brings the potential of starting one of the veteran Free Agent signings. Having veterans like Mingo and Means on roster helps us limit the inexperience by adding guys who have experience in schemes similar to what we will be running with Pees. But none of those guys have ever really had serious success at the NFL level, so should we be banking on these guys?
Between having a great run defender in Mingo and having a potentially good young pass rusher in Ogundeji (Per Adam at least), we should start off by seeing a major rotation of the front seven giving so many different unique looks and fronts.