It’s never a good time to suffer an injury in the NFL. But for Atlanta Falcons players not guaranteed a roster spot, a late preseason injury is the worst timing.
ESPN’s Michael Rothstein reported on August 20 that the Falcons have ruled out wide receivers KhaDarel Hodge and Penny Hart this week because of injuries. Hodge suffered an ankle injury on Friday against the Cincinnati Bengals while Hart entered the concussion protocol.
Hart was likely to be waived on the final roster cutdown date next week anyway. But Hodge was firmly on the bubble. Now, Hodge must hope other Falcons receivers don’t distinguish themselves over the next week while he’s sidelined.
The leading candidate to take advantage of Atlanta’s receiver injuries is Xavier Malone.
An undrafted free agent from Henderson State, Malone has been one of the top receivers for the Falcons in each of the team’s first two preseason contests. Malone led the team with 50 receiving yards on 2 receptions against the Miami Dolphins.
His longest reception of the preseason went for 27 yards. But three of his four catches were at least 19 yards. He had 2 receptions for 33 yards versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
According to Pro Football Focus, Malone has been Atlanta’s top receiver with an 84.8 player grade (out of 100) this preseason. With a 73.6 player grade, Hodge hasn’t performed terribly, but he ranks fourth among Falcons receivers in PFF grades this preseason.
With Frank Darby released, there is a path to both Hodge and Malone making the roster. That’s what Falcons Wire’s Matt Urben predicted on August 16.
Drake London and Mack Hollins are locks to make the roster. As is Scott Miller although if the Falcons do make a surprising roster decision at receiver, it will likely involve Miller.
Miller has been one of the worst performing pass catchers for the Falcons this preseason according to PFF. Most notably, against the Bengals, he didn’t come back to a short pass from quarterback Desmond Ridder that ended in an interception. Miller also appeared to give up on the play before Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai picked off the deflection.
But if Miller remains on the roster as expected, then the Falcons will likely have two receiver spots remaining for Malone, Hodge, Josh Ali and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
Ali experienced a rough first preseason game this month but bounced back against the Bengals. Arcega-Whiteside led the Falcons in receiving with 39 yards versus Cincinnati.
Hodge’s injury could open the door for one of those two wideouts to make Atlanta’s Week 1 roster with Malone.
One thing that likely won’t be a factor is money. Hodge, Arcega-Whiteside, Malone and Ali are all signed to non-guaranteed contracts worth $1.06 million or less.
The Falcons could save a few hundred thousand dollars toward the salary cap keeping Malone instead of Hodge. But that sum of money is largely meaningless to an NFL team.
Atlanta’s coaching staff is going to pick one or two receivers for the bottom of its roster that will best help the offense’s depth and special teams. After his injury, that may not be Hodge anymore.