Atlanta Falcons: Seven Final Preseason Position Battles

Atlanta Falcons Ito Smith (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Atlanta Falcons Ito Smith (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images) /
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Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons Jack Crawford (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Defensive Line

The Atlanta Falcons first and second team defensive ends are pretty much locked in, barring a surprise cut from around the league, that they just can’t refuse exploring. 2016 NFL sack leader Vic Beasley, is back as a full-time defensive end, after moonlighting as a linebacker part time last season. 2017 first round draft pick Takk McKinley, who had 6.5 sacks as a rookie, steps into the starting spot vacated by Adrian Clayborn. Clayborn who lead the Falcons with 9.5 sacks last season, signed with the New England Patriots in Free Agency.

Holdovers Brooks Reed, and Derek Shelby, will be the primary rotations guys, with Beasley and McKinley. Reed does an excellent job of setting the edge versus the run, and shows some pass rush ability. Shelby, who was released by the team, and resigned to a more cap friendly deal this March, is a good run defender, who can also play defensive tackle.

Pro Bowl alternate Grady Jarrett will lead the Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle rotation. He improves more and more each season. It’s unclear who will start beside him, but newcomers Terrell McClain, and Deadrin Senat are the top choices. The veteran McClain was signed from the Washington Redskins, with the savings that Matt Ryan’s contract extension freed up. Senat is a 6’0 305 pound defensive tackle from South Florida University. He has shown good flashes in the preseason games, blowing up several running plays in the backfield. Holdover Jack Crawford is returning from a knee injury, and adds interior pass rush.

The eight guys previously mentioned are virtual locks, leaving just one or two reserve spots to be won. Garrison Smith, standing 6’3 weighing 297 pounds, played in state for University of Georgia Football. He is a strong candidate, that provides interior pass rush. He had six sacks, and ten tackles for a loss in 2013, his senior season in Athens. Justin Zimmer, a 6’3 292 pound tackle out of Ferris State, was signed after being cut by the New Orleans Saints. He had a strong showing last week, with 1.5 sacks against Jacksonville. Another strong performance could seal the job for Zimmer.

Defensive Tackle John Cunningham, 5’11 289 pounds, out of Kent State is in the mix too. As are defensive ends Anthony Winbush of Ball State, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner from UCLA , J.T. Jones of Miami Ohio, and Mackendy Cheridor, are all competing for the final spot, or two on the Atlanta Falcons roster. Cheridor is a local product of Georgia State University. Defensive end appears to be a position that lacks depth for the dirty birds, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see a waiver wire acquisition at that spot, baring a couple of dominant performances tonight.