Not many people believe in the Falcons outside of Atlanta and Flowery Branch. Hell, there’s a decent amount of fans that don’t believe in the club. And who could blame them?
For most of my life, outside of the magical Super Bowl run in 2016, the Falcons have been a laughingstock. It’s only been worse in recent years too. Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot haven’t tasted much success, but the new regime could be on the cusp of experiencing its first notable achievement, says Adam Rank of NFL.com.
The national pundit did an extensive piece on the state of the franchise, and there are a few parts I wanted to highlight and comment on, but I suggest reading the article in its entirety.
Projected 2023 MVP: Calais Campbell, defensive end. After ranking 31st with just 21 sacks last season, the Falcons clearly need to get to the quarterback at a higher rate. Campbell can still help in that department (he was good for 5.5 sacks in 14 games with the Ravens last season) — but what the 36-year-old veteran signee brings to the locker room and sideline might be more impactful than anything he does on the field. Don’t get me wrong: Calais needs to go out there and perform, but the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year seems to be exactly the kind of personality who can help a team that has finished no higher than third in the NFC South over the past three seasons take the next step forward in its growth.
Now, this one is very interesting. Campbell’s impact on the field won’t be MVP caliber, as Rank notes. Sure, he might log a handful of sacks and pressures, but his presence as a winner, competitor, and leader will resonate far deeper than his production on the field.
There are a number of young defenders who need to act as sponges and soak up as much knowledge as possible from Campbell because the veteran has forgotten more about football than Ta’Quon Graham, Zach Harrison, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone have learned.
However, suppose we are talking most valuable player. In that case, I think it has to be Jessie Bates III because he will provide exactly what Campbell will for the defensive front to the secondary while producing at a higher rate. An elite safety can cover up a lot of other deficiencies.
2023 breakout star: Kyle Pitts, tight end. If you follow my exploits in fantasy football, then you know that I was banking on the fourth overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft having a breakout season in 2022, elevating himself to the upper end of the tight ranks alongside the likes of Travis Kelce and George Kittle. Unfortunately, Pitts tallied 28 catches for 356 yards and two TDs in 10 games before suffering a torn MCL. But I still believe Pitts can break out. He’s kind of a unicorn out there. And let’s be real: It does sometimes take tight ends a while to get going at the NFL level. Atlanta’s trade for TE Jonnu Smith could actually benefit Pitts, freeing him up to be a bigger receiving threat this year.
It’s crazy we are talking about Kyle Pitts being a 2023 breakout star when he posted 1,000+ yards as a rookie en route to a Pro Bowl selection. He broke franchise records and nearly set the mark for the most receiving yards by a rookie tight end in league history. However, a sophomore slump has seemingly made fans and members of the media forget how productive he was in 2021.
Pitts 2022 campaign was disappointing, but context matters. The Falcons ran the ball more than just about every other offense in the league; Arthur Smith consistently took the ball out of Marcus Mariota‘s hands — fewer opportunities. Even when Pitts was targeted, it was generally off-target; in fact, Pitts led the league in the percentage of targets deemed uncatchable, which is almost unfathomable for a guy who broke the NFL Combine’s wingspan record.
One storyline …
… people shouldn’t overlook: How good the Falcons’ offensive line is. The Falcons currently own the No. 7 spot in Pro Football Focus‘ O-line rankings. They created some stability by extending right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary. They will have rookie Matthew Bergeron starting at left guard next to left tackle Jake Matthews. The Falcons already ranked third in rushing last year behind Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson; they should be even better with Bijan Robinson joining the backfield. Continuing to run the rock effectively behind this line will just open things up for my guy Kyle Pitts — yes, I’m still trying to make that a thing — and Drake London, who could also break out this year.
Rank hits the nail on the head. The driving force of the Falcons offense will be the five uglies up front. They were one of the best units last year and return four of five starters, with Matthew Bergergon, a second-rounder, expected to be the long-term answer at left guard, which has been a revolving door since Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot took over.
For 2023 to be a success, the Falcons MUST:
Make the playoffs. If you watch the video of my attempt to predict every team’s record, you’ll notice I pick Atlanta to do just that. The NFC South isn’t that great, and the Falcons’ roster has plenty of talent, giving Art Smith the perfect opportunity to finally break into the postseason after a pair of 7-10 finishes at the helm
Yes, if the Falcons don’t make the playoffs in 2023, it will be a failure of a season. No, they aren’t going to compete for a Super Bowl with Desmond Ridder under center in his first full season as a starter, but they absolutely should come out of the NFC South and host a playoff game for the first time since 2016.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire