Falcons lineup projections: Mykal Walker’s time to shine?

·7 min read

The Atlanta Falcons wrapped up their third week of organized team activities on Thursday, and they will begin mandatory minicamp next week. While it’s unwise to overreact to what happens in June, there have been a few developments worth noting.

Deion Jones, Atlanta’s highest-paid player, has been out as he recovers from shoulder surgery. This has left one of the starting inside linebacker spots up for grabs between Mykal Walker, Troy Andersen and Nick Kwiatkoski.

Check out our updated Falcons starting lineup projections going into minicamp.

QB: Marcus Mariota

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Analysis: No change here. We will continue to roll with Marcus Mariota as Matt Ryan’s replacement going into minicamp. Rookie Desmond Ridder should also be in the mix, but he’ll have to show it on the field during the preseason to have a real chance at overtaking Mariota.

RB Cordarrelle Patterson

(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Analysis: Patterson won’t catch opposing teams by surprise this season, but the do-it-all RB/WR/KR should again be a focal point for the Falcons offense. In 2021, Patterson had over 1,100 combined rushing and receiving yards. He should be able to produce similar numbers but I expect Tyler Allgeier and some of the other backs to cut into his touchdown total in 2022.

TE: Kyle Pitts

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Analysis: Even with Drake London in the fold, Pitts will be Atlanta’s No. 1 receiving option just as he was last season. The former No. 4 overall pick was one of two Falcons players to go over 1,000 yards offensively, joining with Patterson. I expect Pitts to become a bigger red-zone threat in year two.

TE: Anthony Firkser

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Analysis: Firkser was an under-the-radar signing as the team needed to replace Hayden Hurst. In 2021, Firsker outperformed Hurst with 34 catches for 291 receiving yards and two touchdowns for the Titans. He should serve as a good complement to Kyle Pitts at tight end in 2022.

WR: Drake London

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Analysis: London was a necessary addition since the team was dangerously thin at the wide receiver position following free agency. Arthur Smith likes rookies to earn their time, but London is an exception as he’s legitimately the best player at the position.

WR: Bryan Edwards

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Analysis: Edwards was acquired via trade with the Raiders and the former third-round pick should serve as a solid No. 2 option this season. Not only is Edwards coming off a career-best 571 yards (16.8 yards per reception), he has experience playing with Marcus Mariota from their time together in Las Vegas.

LT: Jake Matthews

(AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

Analysis: Matthews has been a consistent force along an inconsistent Falcons offensive line since 2014. He signed a three-year extension over the offseason. That’s about all you need to know.

LG: Jalen Mayfield

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Analysis: I’m sticking with the former Michigan man at left guard, even though he had some seriously rough outings as a rookie. Mayfield likely won’t be challenged for his starting spot by anyone on this current roster. Atlanta drafted guard Justin Shaffer out of Georgia in the sixth round, but he’s unlikely to pose a real threat this season.

Center: Matt Hennessy

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

Analysis: Hennessy, like Mayfield, should get another year as the starter since the team didn’t add any major competition. The former third-round pick out of Temple had a tough year but definitely showed some bright spots. Unless Drew Dalman makes an incredible second-year leap, expect another year of Hennessy.

RG: Chris Lindstrom

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Analysis: Lindstrom was recently named to Touchdown Wire’s all-underrated team as the starting right guard. Atlanta wisely picked up Lindstrom’s fifth-year option and the former Boston College standout could make his first Pro Bowl with another solid year.

RT: Kaleb McGary

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Analysis: While I initially felt like McGary would be replaced by Germain Ifedi or Elijah Wilkinson, something tells me he’s going to be motivated now that the team declined his fifth-year option. McGary still has upside as a run-blocker and perhaps year two in Arthur Smith’s system will bring out the best in the former first-round pick. He is playing for a contract after all.

DL: Grady Jarrett

(AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Analysis: Fresh off a three-year extension, Atlanta’s best defensive lineman will be where he always is doing the dirty work up front. Perhaps the Falcons’ upgraded pass-rush will finally allow the team to maximize Jarrett’s rare skill set.

DT: Anthony Rush

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Analysis: The Falcons cut Tyeler Davison and re-signed Anthony Rush at the start of the offseason. Despite Atlanta also signing DT Vincent Taylor, I think Rush gets the nod at the nose tackle spot going into the year. He played more snaps at the position in 2021 than any other lineman on the roster.

DL: Ta'Quon Graham

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Analysis: No change here. Graham may be inexperienced, but he is the front-runner to start along with Rush and Jarrett up front. Atlanta didn’t re-sign Jonathan Bullard and recently cut John Cominsky.

OLB: Lorenzo Carter

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Analysis: Carter was a wise signing by the Falcons since he didn’t break the bank and has the upside to be a quality starter. With Steven Means and Dante Fowler Jr. out of the picture, Carter will surely man one of Atlanta’s two starting OLB spots.

OLB: Arnold Ebiketie

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Analysis: Ebiketie was clearly someone the Falcons felt they needed since they traded up into the second round to acquire him. The former Penn State standout is a physical freak and offers day-one starter upside. There really isn’t a ton of competition aside from fellow rookie DeAngelo Malone.

ILB: Rashaan Evans

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Analysis: Evans is another player that has familiarity with the coaching staff from his time in Tennessee. Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees recently said he didn’t know why the Titans let Evans walk. The former first-round pick seems like a lock to start at one of the two ILB spots.

ILB: Mykal Walker

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Analysis: This isn’t just about Deion Jones’ injury, Walker has patiently waited for his chance and he may finally get it this season. Whether or not Jones is on the roster, the Falcons’ recent moves are a clear indication that they are moving on at inside linebacker. Walker, who Pro Football Focus selected as the team’s breakout candidate for 2022, will have some competition from rookie Troy Andersen and veteran Nick Kwiatikoski. Ultimately, I think the former Fresno State standout will do enough in training camp to enter the season as a starter.

CB: A.J. Terrell

(AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Analysis: Terrell was voted second-team All-Pro for his outstanding second season. Touchdown Wire recently included Terrell on its underrated team along with Lindstrom. It won’t be long before those outside of Atlanta are familiar with Terrell’s game as he’s developing a reputation for shutting down elite wideouts.

CB: Casey Hayward

(AP Photo/Ellen Schmidt)

Analysis: Hayward signed a two-year deal with the Falcons over the offseason and he gives the team a true No. 2 cornerback to pair with Terrell. The former Pro Bowler is an instant upgrade over Fabian Moreau.

Safety: Erik Harris

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Analysis: I am excited to see what Richie Grant can do this year following a quiet rookie season. While Grant and fellow safety Jaylinn Hawkins appear to be building chemistry for a long-term pairing in the defensive secondary, I am sticking with Harris at this spot until I see Grant play in the preseason.

Safety: Jaylinn Hawkins

(AP Photo/Ian Walton)

Analysis: J-Hawk is staying in my starting lineup for now. The third-year safety is in a similar position to Mykal Walker in that he’s continued to work on his craft while waiting for his chance. I think Hawkins finally gets the starting nod going into the season.

Kicker: Younghoe Koo

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Punter: Dom Maggio

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LS: Liam McCullough

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Kick/Punt returner

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