After a couple of seasons with measly rosters, Arthur Smith finally has something to work with this year. The Falcons spent over $250 million this offseason on extensions and free agent contracts; the difference is clear.
The most notable difference comes on the defensive side of the ball, with wholesale changes coming at all three levels. The secondary underwent a significant makeover, with Jessie Bates III being the gem of the free agent class. He is joined by Mike Hughes and Jeff Okudah to solidify the backend. Kaden Elliss, Lorenzo Carter, and Bud Dupree were added to the second level, but the most exciting part of the offseason is the transformation of the interior defensive line.
Grady Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham are joined by David Onyemata and Calais Campbel. It’s by far the deepest and most talented group in Jarrett’s Falcons career. But that’s not all, the offense is equally equipped for success in 2023.
The offensive line is returning four of five starters, and second-round pick Matthew Bergeron is primed to assume the left guard position. That kind of continuity cannot be understated; it’s an incredibly important and consistent facet of successful offensive lines. Moreover, there might not be a more talented group of skill-position players in the league.
Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, and the recently drafted Bijan Robinson form the best skill group Atlanta has seen since the club went to the Super Bowl more than five years ago.
However, there is one question mark, and it’s an incredibly large one — quarterback. Desmond Ridder is being given the keys to a Ferrari and is expected to keep it on the road. He’s the reason the Falcons will sink or swim this season and is Bleacher Report’s X-factor for Atlanta.
While the Atlanta Falcons appear to be confident in second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder, he’s still largely unproven. The 2022 third-round pick made four starts as a rookie and flashed some promise (86.4 QB rating), but opposing teams now have tape on him.
Like Arizona, the Falcons could consider taking a quarterback in the 2024 draft if Ridder flops and they wind up with a high selection. If Ridder builds on what he showed last year, though, the Falcons might contend for the NFC South crown.
Atlanta has done a tremendous job of surrounding its quarterback with skill-position players. From wide receiver Drake London, tight end Kyle Pitts and wideout Scotty Miller to running backs Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier and Bijan Robinson, the Falcons are loaded with receiving and rushing options.
Whether all that talent yields a potent offense and a playoff push or only looks good on paper largely depends on Ridder, who was the top-ranked quarterback on the Bleacher Report Scouting Department’s 2022 big board.
If Desmond Ridder cannot succeed in this situation, there aren’t many others he would. He has ample support on both sides of the ball to lead the Falcons to the playoffs. Given the state of the NFC South, it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities that Ridder delivers a home playoff game for the first time since 2016.
Photographer: Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire