The Falcons don’t have a Super Bowl caliber roster at the moment, but it’s still much improved from a year ago.
A lot of that has to do with Terry Fontenot’s work in the pro personnel side of things. The draft hasn’t been his bread and butter, but he has an outstanding ability to get the most out of his dollars when acquiring pro talent.
Dating back to the regime’s first season, the Falcons inked an aging Cordarrelle Patterson, who ended up having the best two seasons of his career in 2021 and 2022. Finally, with some change in the bank, the club was able to throw their hats in the ring for some marquee names.
It netted a haul of impact defenders, headlined by Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, and Kaden Elliss.
The former Saints defenders were brought in because of their familiarity with Fontenot and Ryan Nielsen. Both have been critical to Atlanta’s defensive resurgence but neither has been as impactful as Bates, who is playing like the best safety in football.
Bates is tied for third in the NFL with four interceptions, including one for a touchdown, and has also forced three fumbles this season. His seven takeaways are tied for the league lead, and he’s the only player in the league that is top 10 in both forced fumbles and interceptions.
As well as the big ticket free agents have worked out, it’s the other, lesser deals that give me confidence in Terry Fontenot’s talent acquisition. Guys like Jonnu Smith and Jeff Okudah have filled needs and required very little draft capital to acquire. Then, there’s a player like Dee Alford, who was acquired through the CFL and has turned into a valuable starter on defense.
Alford was acknowledged among the best defensive backs in the league earlier in the season and has only continued his impressive stretch of play, prompting ESPN to recognize him as the Falcons best veteran contract, value deal:
Alford graduated from Division II Tusculum in 2019 and went undrafted, which led to two seasons in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Atlanta brought him home in 2022 — he grew up in Griffin, Georgia — and he has become an important part of the Falcons’ secondary as the nickelback. Alford is 11th in DVOA this season among cornerbacks with at least 200 coverage snaps (through Week 10). He’s also tied for second among Atlanta defenders with six passes defensed.
Dee Alford is under contract for less than $1 million for 2023 and 2024, which is a bargain for any starter at any position, let alone a premium one like a cornerback. The Falcons have a gem in the Tusculum product.
Photographer: Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire