Avery Williams

Falcons Notes: QB Camp Reps, RB, NT Competitions

For the first time since 2008, the Falcons will have a starting quarterback not named Matt Ryan when the upcoming season begins. The team added Marcus Mariota as a short-term solution at the position, then drafted Desmond Ridder as a long-term option to succeed him.

The former has starting experience dating back to his time with the Titans, and will look to establish himself as a No. 1 again after two years as a backup with the Raiders. The latter, meanwhile, had an historic career at Cincinnati, leading the Bearcats to the CFP playoffs in 2021. Their lack of a track record at the NFL level made the Falcons a candidate to add a camp arm, but the team is investing fully in their top two passers.

As detailed by D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, training camp reps will be split between Mariota and Ridder, with Feleipe Franks primarily focusing on his transition to TE. “When you look at it in terms of the quarterbacks for live periods of practice, there is not a lot [of] taxing amount of periods where the ball is being thrown,” said offensive coordinator Dave Ragone when speaking about a concentrated workload for the pair. With little expected of the team in 2022, dividing the reps only two ways is a sensible step for the Falcons as they search for a new franchise signal-caller.

Here are a few other notes from the Peach State, both from Ledbetter’s positional breakdowns:

  • The Falcons ranked 31st in the league in rushing last season, so their attempts at improving their ground game will be the subject of much attention this year. Cordarrelle Patterson is set to return, after he totalled a career-best 1,166 scrimmage yards in 2021. He will not enter camp as the undisputed No. 1 back, however; RBs coach Mike Pitre said that there will be a “wide open” competition involving the veteran Swiss Army knife, free agent signing Damien Williamsand younger options like rookie Tyler Allgeier and Avery Williamswho is converting from cornerback. Head coach Arthur Smith did add, however, that the Falcons will “continue to try to enhance ” Patterson’s overall role in the offense.
  • On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle will be another positional battle to watch. Either Vincent Taylor 0r Anthony Rush will earn a starting spot alongside Grady Jarrett in the heart of the d-line. Eddie Goldman was the most experienced option for a first-team role until his unexpected retirement decision was confirmed earlier this week. Taylor and Rush have each bounced around to multiple teams in their careers, but will have an opportunity for significant snaps in their debut seasons with the Falcons, who ranked 27th against the run in 2021.

Falcons Convert Avery Williams To Running Back

The Falcons selected Avery Williams, a Boise State cornerback, in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. In his rookie campaign, Williams appeared in 121 defensive snaps but factored more prominently into Atlanta’s ST unit, as he was on the field for 73% of the club’s third team snaps. That included considerable time as a return specialist, as he handled 20 punts and 23 kickoffs.

Neither his limited run as a defensive back (11 completions allowed on 14 targets) nor his efforts as a return man (7.7 yards per return on punts, 21.3 yards per return on kickoffs) generated much excitement. And while he may still compete for return duties, the club is moving Williams from cornerback to running back, as Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com tweets.

The switch is somewhat telling of the team’s belief (or lack thereof) in Williams’ upside as a defender. The Falcons have A.J. Terrell and free agent acquisition Casey Hayward locked in as a strong pair of boundary corners, but there is not much depth behind them, especially since Atlanta did not select a CB in last month’s draft. Although the team re-signed Isaiah Oliver to serve as its top nickel back, Oliver was limited to just four games in 2021 due to a knee injury, and 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant — who saw some time in the slot last year due to Oliver’s injury — is expected to work primarily as a safety in 2022.

Despite that, it appears that 2021 fourth-round selection Darren Hall will have the chance to continue honing his craft as a corner, while Williams will be tasked with carving out a role in a crowded offensive backfield. The Falcons just signed Jeremy McNichols several days ago, and they brought in Damien Williams shortly after free agency opened in March. The club also picked up Tyler Allgeier in the fifth round of this year’s draft and is of course still rostering 2021 revelation Cordarrelle Patterson. Qadree Ollison and Caleb Huntley round out the current RB depth chart.

Patterson is hardly a prototypical back, and he will likely continue to be utilized in a hybrid receiver/running back role. Damien Williams, meanwhile, has only received more than 100 carries in a season once in his seven-year career (not including his 2020 COVID opt-out), and there is a reason McNichols was still available in late May. So there is a chance that Avery Williams can make some headway in a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the league in every major statistical category in 2021, but with the sheer number of bodies in Atlanta’s running back room at the moment, it’s difficult to argue that this positional change bodes well for his professional future.

Falcons Sign Five Draft Picks

The Falcons recently carved out some cap space via the Julio Jones trade, and they’re now starting to ink rookies to contracts. The team announced today that they’ve signed five draft picks to rookie deals: third-round offensive tackle Jalen Mayfield, fifth-round defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham, fifth-round linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji, fifth-round cornerback Avery Williams, and sixth-round wideout Frank Darby.

Mayfield, who was taken with the No. 68 pick, is naturally the most notable signing. The lineman appeared in 18 games through three seasons at Michigan, allowing only a pair of sacks. Mayfield put himself on the NFL map after helping guide the 2019 Michigan running game to more than 2,000 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.

Ogundeji is an intriguing prospect following a productive career at Notre Dame. The defensive lineman saw time in 43 games for the Irish, compiling 13 sacks, six forced fumbles, and 17 tackles for loss. Meanwhile, while Williams had a solid stint at Boise State as a defensive back, he was prolific on special teams, and he could immediately find himself as one of the Falcons’ key returners next season.

Following the five signings, the Falcons have four draft picks who remain unsigned:

AFC Contract Details: Crabtree, Williamson

Here are figures on some of the recent contracts signed around the NFL, with all links going to Twitter unless noted otherwise.

Top 2018 Free Agents By Position: Defense

NFL free agency will get underway on Wednesday, March 14th, and while the list of free agents will change between now and then, we do have some idea of who will be available when free agency kicks off. The frenzy is right around the corner and it’s time for us to break down the outlook for each position. After looking at offense on Monday, we’ll tackle defense and special teams today.

Listed below are our rankings for the top 15 free agents at each defensive position. These rankings aren’t necessarily determined by the value of the contracts – or the amount of guaranteed money – that each player is expected to land in free agency. These are simply the players we like the most at each position, with both short- and long-term value taken into account.

Restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, as well as players who received the franchise tag, aren’t listed here, since the roadblocks in place to hinder another team from actually acquiring most of those players prevent them from being true free agents.

We’ll almost certainly be higher or lower on some free agents than you are, so feel free to weigh in below in our comments section to let us know which players we’ve got wrong.

Here’s our breakdown of the current top 15 free agents by defensive position for 2018:

Edge defender:

  1. Julius Peppers
  2. William Hayes
  3. Trent Murphy
  4. Pernell McPhee
  5. Aaron Lynch
  6. Alex Okafor
  7. Adrian Clayborn
  8. Kony Ealy
  9. Connor Barwin
  10. Jeremiah Attaochu
  11. Junior Galette
  12. Derrick Shelby
  13. Barkevious Mingo
  14. Kareem Martin
  15. Erik Walden

As a positional group, pass rushers comprise interesting market on the defensive side of the ball. It’s not often that a list of best available players is topped by a 38-year-old, but Peppers is the top free agent edge defender after the Cowboys and Lions deployed the franchise tag on Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah, respectively. As with quarterbacks, NFL clubs are extremely reluctant to allow pass rushers to hit the open market, so top-tier options are rarely ever truly “available.” Peppers, for his part, hasn’t even declared whether he’ll return in 2018, but indications are that he’ll suit up for a 17th campaign after posting 11 sacks last year.

Alongside Peppers, other veterans populate the edge market, and while William Hayes may not be a household name, he’ll be a contributor for whichever team signs him. A stout run defender, Hayes is also capable of generating pressure despite managing only one sack in 2017. The Dolphins used Hayes on only 271 defensive snaps a season ago, and have since replaced him by acquiring fellow defensive end Robert Quinn from the Rams. Now that he’s entering his age-33 season, Hayes should come cheap, but will almost assuredly outplay his contract.

Nearly every other available pass rusher has some sort of flaw which will likely limit his market next week. Trent Murphy is only 27 years old and put up nine sacks in 2016, but he missed the entirety of the 2017 campaign with injury. Pernell McPhee, Alex Okafor, Junior Galette, and Derrick Shelby have also been plagued by health questions in recent seasons. And Adrian Clayborn famously registered the majority of his 2017 sacks (and 20% of his career sack total) in one game against overwhelmed Cowboys backup Chaz Green.

The two names that I keep coming back to are Aaron Lynch (49ers) and Jeremiah Attaochu (Chargers). Yes, Lynch has been suspended for substance abuse, struggled with his weight, and was reportedly in danger of being waived prior to last season. He’s also extremely young (he won’t turn 25 years old until Thursday) and ranked fifth in the league with 34 pass pressures as recently as 2015. Attaochu, a 25-year-old former second-round pick, also has youth on his side, and while he hasn’t quite flashed as much as Lynch, he’s also been buried on LA’s depth chart for much of his career.

Interior defensive line:

  1. Sheldon Richardson
  2. Dontari Poe
  3. Muhammad Wilkerson
  4. Star Lotulelei
  5. DaQuan Jones
  6. Beau Allen
  7. Denico Autry
  8. Justin Ellis
  9. Tom Johnson
  10. Bennie Logan
  11. Chris Baker
  12. Kyle Williams
  13. Dominique Easley
  14. Haloti Ngata
  15. Jay Bromley

Interior rushers are getting more respect in today’s NFL, but that still hasn’t translated to them being paid on the level of edge defenders — the 2018 franchise tag for defensive tackles, for example, is roughly $3MM cheaper than the tender for edge rushers. While the 2018 crop of interior defenders boasts some impressive top-end talent, none of the available players figure to earn a double-digit annual salary. Sheldon Richardson may have the best chance to do so, but Seattle determined he wasn’t worth a one-year cost of $13.939MM, so is any other club going to pay him $10MM per year? I’d guess he comes in closer to $9MM annually, which would still place him among the 25 highest-paid defensive tackles.

Dontari Poe will be an intriguing free agent case after setting for a one-year deal last offseason, but the most interesting battle among defensive tackles will take place Star Lotulelei and Muhammad Wilkerson, and I’m curious to see which player earns more on the open market. Both are former first-round picks, and it’s difficult to argue Wilkerson hasn’t been the more productive player — or, at least, reached higher highs — than Lotulelei. Wilkerson also won’t affect his next team’s compensatory pick formula given that he was released, but his off-field issues, which include a reported lack of effort and problems with coaches, could limit his appeal.

While Beau Allen and Denico Autry are potentially candidates to be overpaid based on their youth, there are bargains to be had at defensive tackle. Tom Johnson is 33 but he’s offered consistent pressure from the interior for years — his last contract was for three years and $7MM, so he shouldn’t cost much this time around. Haloti Ngata was injured in 2017 but plans to continue his career, and he can still stop the run. And Dominique Easley was outstanding as a 3-4 end in 2016 before missing last season with a torn ACL, meaning the former first-round pick could be a value play for any number of teams.Read more

Texans Down To 53

The Texans officially announced their roster cuts. Here’s a look at the moves that were not previously given full posts on PFR:

Released:

Waived:

Waived/Injured:

Texans Sign 20 UDFAs

The Texans have announced their UDFA contingent. Here are 20 post-draft talents the two-time reigning AFC South champions have added.