Falcons 2021 draft class outlook for 2023 season

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The Falcons added a wide array of talent this offseason via free agency and trade acquisitions. Jessie Bates III and Calais Campbell headline the defensive additions, while Jonnu Smith joins an already loaded offensive skill group. However, internal development will always be the most practical approach to sustainable success.

The new regime’s first draft class, which featured nine players, is entering its third season. There is always a learning curve transitioning to the NFL, and the third year should be a turning point for a lot of players. Let’s talk about the expectations for the 2021 draft class entering the 2023 campaign:

Kyle Pitts

Following a record-breaking rookie campaign, the highest-drafted tight end in NFL history had a sophomore slump. Pitts only posted 356 yards on 28 receptions in 10 games before an injury ended his season. Disappointing is an understatement, but I’d argue most of the blame falls on others’ shoulders. Pitts was catching passes from a backup quarterback; Marcus Mariota had the highest off-target rate in the league last year. That should change in 2023.

Desmond Ridder might not be some superstar, but one would have to hope he won’t be worse than Mariota. Moreover, the weaponry is vastly improved. Jonnu Smith and Bijan Robinson join Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson. Pitts should revert to the level of production he experienced during his rookie season.

Richie Grant

Following a quiet rookie year, Grant assumed a full-time role in 2022. It was a bag of mixed results, but the former second-rounder flashed. He struggled to match up with tight ends, given his size, but he thrived in other facets of the game. The biggest impact on his development will be the addition of Jessie Bates, who is heralded for his ability to make others around him better. The Falcons need Grant to take the next step because a second-round pick is a premium selection.

Jalen Mayfield

No player should be written off after one bad season, but this might be the exception. Mayfield was arguably the worst offensive lineman in football during his rookie season. A back injury kept him out for the 2022 season, and the Falcons drafted Matthew Bergeron in the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The Syracuse product played tackle in college but will likely kick inside to guard. If all goes well, Bergeron will be the long-term starter at left guard. It leaves Mayfield in a state of flux. At best, he’ll be a reserve lineman in 2023.

Darren Hall

The Falcons’ fourth-rounder recorded three passes defended, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss, and 44 tackles in a few starts. Injuries forced him into a starting role, and though he performed admirably, Hall didn’t play like a starting-caliber cornerback. His 2023 outlook points to another reserve role, but the competition Terry Fontenot has brought in this offseason points to a fierce training camp battle. Hall’s position on the roster isn’t set in stone.

Drew Dalman

Dalman didn’t play much on offense during his rookie season but beat out Matt Hennessy for the starting gig in 2022. The Standford product had an up and down campaign, mainly struggling in pass protection. Given the lack of competition added at center, it’s a safe bet that Dalman will be the Falcons’ starter in 2023. It’s one of the most critical positions in football, despite rarely getting the recognition as such. Dalman has to take the next step in his development. He needs to command the offense and set the tone; 2023 will be a big year for him.

Ta’Quon Graham

34 combined tackles,  one tackle for loss, and eight quarterback hits might not be the most impressive stat line, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Graham may not have the sack totals or quarterback hits of some others, but his presence kept opposing offensive lines from double and triple-teaming Jarrett. In the first 11 games before Graham’s season-ending injury, Jarrett posted 5.5 of his six total sacks and 10 of his 12 tackles for a loss. Graham is primed for another productive season in 2023.

Adetokunbo Ogundeji

Ogundeji was the primary starter opposite Lorenzo Carter but only produced six quarterback pressures and 2.5 sacks. He hasn’t turned into a gem quite like Graham, but he’s a productive player, who will likely assume a rotational role in 2023. Arnold Ebiketie and Lorenzo Carter will likely assume most of the starters’ snaps; Ogundeji might actually be on the roster bubble, depending on how the spring shakes out.

Avery Williams

The Falcons led the league in punt-return average as Avery Williams averaged 16.2 yards per return. The club was ranked fifth in the special teams defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) ratings by Football Outsiders, thanks in part to Williams. He’s one of the best returners in football but can also contribute on offense. Unfortunately, the running back room is crowded, so the opportunities may be few and far between for Williams, but the Boise State product is the Falcons’ special teams ace.

Frank Darby

If there’s anyone in this draft class that is most in danger of not making the 2023 roster, it is Frank Darby. Outside of his contributions on special teams, he hasn’t done much of anything. Thankfully for him, the entire receiver room is practically up for grabs outside of Drake London, Mack Hollins, and Scott Miller, so with a good training camp, Darby could end up with a role.

Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire

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