The Falcons’ 2023 team features a number of new faces following a busy offseason.
Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith completely overhauled the defensive side of the ball. There could be as many as nine new starters in this season opener compared to last year’s.
There were impact free agents added to all three levels of the defense, along with a new coordinator in Ryan Nielsen. Jessie Bates III was the gem of the class, inking a lucrative four-year deal. David Onyemata and Calais Campbell give Grady Jarrett the most support he’s had in his career, but a lesser-known offseason acquisition is the one Falcons fans will come to love.
Kaden Elliss has mostly been a reserve and special teams contributor but signed a three-year, $21.5 million deal to follow his former defensive coordinator from New Orleans to Atlanta. He’s primed to break out with a full season’s worth of opportunities, prompting NFL.com to include him in their All-Breakout Team:
The former special teams standout created a buzz in league circles last season with his strong performance as New Orleans’ third linebacker and emergency fill-in for Pete Werner. Elliss notched six of his seven sacks over the Saints’ final nine games, showing the football world that he could thrive as a full-time starter. After inking a a three-year, $21.5 million deal with the rival Falcons, the former seventh-round pick could put up the kind of numbers that make him a household name by the end of the 2023 season.
The Falcons are adopting an up-and-coming philosophy — positionless football. Offensively, it’s apparent in their recent acquisitions.
Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts aren’t traditional players and are better described as offensive weapons. We saw Cordarrelle Patterson set career marks in 2021 as a rusher and receiver. Drake London is a versatile pass catcher, and Jonnu Smith has more to his game than meets the eye.
The regime is taking the same approach defensively. Jessie Bates can play in the deep third, in the box, or wherever else Nielsen could use him. Calais Campbell can play up and down the line of scrimmage; Mike Hughes can play in the slot and on the boundary, but Kaden Elliss is the Swiss Army Knife of the defense.
Nielsen used him as an off-ball linebacker and along the defensive front in New Orleans last season, and that isn’t going to change in Atlanta. Falcons fans can expect Elliss to assume a traditional linebacker role next to Troy Andersen on early downs, but on third downs is when Nielsen will get creative. Elliss will line up all over the defense with a variety of responsibilities, whether it be spying the quarterback, rushing the passer, or dropping into coverage.
Falcons fans might not know who he is right now, but soon, Kaden Elliss will become a household name in Atlanta.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire