After making Bijan Robinson the highest-drafted running back since Squon Barkley went 2nd overall in 2018, the Falcons addressed the trenches with their second and third-round picks, landing Matthew Bergeron and Zach Harrison, respectively.
Terry Fontenot parted ways with a fourth-round pick to trade up in the beginning of the second round to land Bergeron out of Syracuse, where he was a four-year starter, logging 31 games at left tackle and eight at right. He excels as a run blocker with the kind of attitude Arthur Smith wants from his linemen, fighting throughout plays.
That nasty attitude sets the tone. He was a captain at Syracuse and displays the intangibles the new regime is seeking. Bergeron plays exactly how Arthur Smith coaches — hard-nosed. But he’s not all brute; he’s got enough movement ability to play in a zone blocking scheme, which is what the Falcons will run.
So, where will he slot in? Despite playing tackle for the Orangemen, Atlanta didn’t just draft him to be a swing tackle.
The Falcons just re-signed Kaleb McGary to a three-year deal this offseason and extended Jake Matthews the offseason prior. No, Matthew Bergeron isn’t going to be expected to play tackle; he’ll slot in at guard. It might make some fans uneasy about kicking another college tackle to play guard in the NFL; after all, the last experiment — Jalen Mayfield — failed miserably.
There are some differences, though. Bergeron is a much better prospect at this point in the pair’s respective development. Honestly, he’s probably better than Mayfield right now without any NFL experience or knowledge of the Falcons’ offense.
Bergeron will be the Falcons’ starter at left guard this season, and Matt Hennessy is really his only serious competition. Zach Harrison, though, won’t have nearly as big of a role for the team in 2023.
The Ohio State product fits the mold of what new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen has historically worked with at defensive end. He stands 6’5” and weighs 275 pounds with extremely long arms. Harrison joined the Buckeyes as a highly touted high school recruit but never realized his full potential.
The coaching staff will be tasked with unlocking his pass rushing potential, but his floor is solid because of his ability as a run defender. His size and length help him shed blockers, enabling him to use his plus athleticism to tackle ball carriers. He’ll need some TLC, but the Falcons are in a position to let him develop.
Atlanta went out and acquired Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Eddie Goldman in addition to Grady Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham already under contract. There isn’t a ton of snaps up for grabs. Harrison will be able to learn behind proven veterans while contributing on early downs as a run defender. Campbell is on a one-year deal, so hopefully, Harrison can improve enough over the 2023 campaign to assume a more prominent role in 2024.
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