Bleacher Report identifies Falcons smartest offseason move

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The Falcons have been quite active this offseason. Atlanta made Chris Lindstrom the highest-paid player at his position; they swung a notable trade for Jonnu Smith as well as signed big-ticket free agents Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata. However, the move Bleacher Report believes is the smartest was hiring Ryan Nielsen.

The Atlanta Falcons are seemingly looking to develop second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder in 2023. They added a backup and/or camp competitor in Taylor Heinicke instead of chasing a proven starter like Derek Carr in free agency.

Improving a defense that ranked 27th overall in 2022 could take a lot of pressure off the young signal-caller. And the Falcons made a savvy move this offseason by replacing defensive coordinator Dean Pees with Ryan Nielsen.

Nielsen comes from the rival New Orleans Saints, who ranked fifth in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed last season. Nielsen, who served as the Saints’ defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator last season, knows the division well and how to scheme against NFC South opponents.

Last season, New Orleans surrendered more than 22 points only once to a divisional opponent, in Week 1 against Atlanta.

Standout defensive tackle David Onyemata followed Nielsen from New Orleans in free agency, and general manager Terry Fontenot added more defensive help by signing safety Jessie Bates III.

Falcons fans should be excited to see Nielsen take the reins of the defense. With a stouter unit and a strong running game, Ridder should be able to settle into a game-manager role and grow from there.

The Falcons didn’t make a savvy move replacing Dean Pees; the veteran coordinator retired, and Nielsen will succeed him. Moreover, Falcons fans should be excited about the defense but not because of the new coordinator.

In my opinion, offense is predicated more on schematics, but defense is not. That side of the ball depends more on talent, and the club has added difference-makers on all three levels.

Jessie Bates III was the top safety on the free agent market. He will certainly benefit Richie Grant‘s growth as a player and command the backend defense. David Onyemata and Calais Campbell will roam the line of scrimmage next to Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, and Eddie Goldman, giving Atlanta a competent defensive line rotation for the first time in years. Kaden Elliss will be a chess piece for Nielsen, able to play on and off the line of scrimmage.

Those four should dramatically improve the Falcons’ defense. Nielsen will help, but he’s not some savant that doesn’t need talent. Defensive coordinators need talent, and the Falcons’ front office has finally given theirs some impact players.

Photographer: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire

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