The Falcons may no longer be flying under the radar. After two mediocre seasons that ended with 7-10 records, the Dirty Birds are an ascending organization, thanks to getting out from underneath a mountain of dead cap.
Atlanta has put together three offensive stars in Kyle Pitts, Drake London, and Bijan Robinson while completely overhauling the defensive side of the ball via free agency. For the first time in a long time, there are legitimate expectations to challenge for a postseason spot, and the national media might be hopping on the bandwagon.
Adam Schein of NFL.com dubbed the Falcons the number one stock to buy before the season, ahead of Garrett Wilson, Ben Johnson, DeMeco Ryans, Calvin Ridley, Darren Waller, and Cam Akers.
I think this is the NFL’s sleeper squad in 2023. While I named the rival Saints as my Cinderella team after the signing of Derek Carr in March, I believe both NFC South teams can win 10-plus games this year.
First of all, I’m a big fan of Arthur Smith. Despite going 7-10 in each of his first two seasons in the big chair, Smith is a fabulous coach. The third year will indeed be the charm, given the growth and upgrading of the roster. Second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder has a true chance to be solid under Smith’s watchful eye — especially with the NFL experience gained since his third-round selection in the 2022 draft.
One thing that certainly helps: The addition of No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson. That’s a monster all-purpose weapon joining Ridder in the backfield — and joining a playmaking group that already features Drake London, Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts. With a stout group on the offensive line, Smith’s Falcons should create some fireworks in 2023. Meanwhile, the defense — Atlanta’s bugaboo for years — got a boost on every level in free agency. Calais Campbell, David Onyemata and Bud Dupree significantly upgrade the front, and the Falcons also added an emerging linebacker (Kaden Elliss) and one of the game’s best safeties (Jessie Bates).
In addition to what Schein noted on the acquisitions, the Falcons added a ton of depth to the cornerback room that was decimated by injuries in 2022. The top end talent wasn’t improved much, but the depth is much more solid from a year ago with Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, and Clark Phillips III joining the team.
Moreover, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Bud Dupree join Lorenzo Carter, Arnold Ebiketie, DeAngelo Malone, Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, and Eddie Goldman along the defensive front. It gives Atlanta the deepest rotation the defense has had in years.
Schein also doesn’t mention Tyler Allgeier and Jonnu Smith among the playmaking group of Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Bijan Robinson, and Cordarrelle Patterson. It’s one of football’s most underrated skill groups, but it won’t be by season’s end.
The Falcons have one of the easier schedules in football, drawing two of the worst divisions in the league — AFC South and NFC North — as well as being in the NFC South. The Dirty Birds have an excellent chance of hosting a playoff game again for the first time since 2016.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire