The Atlanta Falcons are officially back in business this Friday as they visit the New York Jets. The preseason is a chance for the coaching staff to get a real evaluation of players against live competition. The Falcons roster is mostly complete but there are a few players who have me intrigued prior to Friday.
Almost every single year there is at least one player who surprises us all. Perhaps there is an undrafted rookie who makes the roster again this season. Who will be this year’s Brian Poole? Let’s take a look at our four under-the-radar players headed into Friday.
1. Quarterback: Kurt Benkert
We know who the Falcons will be rolling out as the starter on week one. It is also very likely that Matt Schaub will remain the backup. However, this is the final year of Schaub’s two-year contract and they will need a successor. I believe that will be undrafted rookie Kurt Benkert. The Virginia product proved he has an NFL caliber arm and has good enough tools to play in the league. The Falcons gave Benkert $60,000 to sign as an undrafted free agent, which was a clear sign to me that they want to keep him around as a development quarterback.
2. Wide Receiver: Dontez Byrd
If the Falcon’s weren’t loaded at the wide receiver position, I would be convinced that Byrd could make the roster. But with a unit filled with the likes of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley, and Justin Hardy, it is difficult to find room. Let’s not forget new draftee Russell Gage, and returning players Marvin Hall and Reggie Davis. Byrd has shined at camp and has a chance to improve his stock on Friday. He’s not a tall guy but he has a knack at getting open and has incredible patience. The newest Dirty Bird could become the Dirty Byrd for the Falcons come September.
3. Linebacker: Foye Oluokun
Do you want to see a competition that has a chance of firing up? Falcons rookie linebacker Foye Oluokun has shined at training camp so far and should get some valuable reps against the Jets. Oluokun fits the Dan Quinn mold perfectly with speed, athleticism, and the ability to cover. This is a competition that has flown under-the-radar so far, but it has some serious potential. Second-year linebacker Duke Riley currently holds that position and should remain there week one. However, Oluokun has all of the tools to step right in and be a productive linebacker in the NFL.
4. Cornerback: Isaiah Oliver
Perhaps not a player who is flying under the radar, but similar to Byrd, Oliver is joining a loaded unit. The second round pick out of Colorado has the length and athleticism to cause some serious problems for opposing teams. Oliver, who has shined so far at camp could be a key contributor early in the preseason. He should get plenty of playing time and this will give us a great look at what the rookie is capable of. The unit of Desmond Trufant, Robert Alford, Isaiah Oliver, and Brian Poole in secondary could be pretty scary come September.