The Falcons offense has been a disappointment by all accounts, given the talent on that side of the ball. However, the defense has been a completely different story. It’s carried the team thus far.
Ryan Nielsen came over from New Orleans with the opportunity to run his own ship. In Atlanta, he’s been given similar talent, but there were concerns that a new scheme and nine new starters would take time to gel.
That hasn’t been the case. Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata, and Calais Campbell have provided immense value as interior pass rushers. Kaden Elliss has commanded the middle of the defense, but the crown jewel of the offseason acquisitions is Jessie Bates III.
He’s been the star of the season thus far, and it’s looking like one of the best free agent signings in franchise history. Bates has been instrumental in the turnaround of the Falcons’ defense.
Another acquisition that has fans excited is Jeff Okudah. The Falcons traded a measly fifth-round pick for the former third overall pick with the hopes that a change of scenery would benefit him.
Okudah missed the start of the season with an injury but has returned to the lineup and is coming off the best game of his brief Falcons career. Against the Commanders, he was targeted five times in coverage and only allowed one reception by my count, recording a pair of pass breakups.
The performance garnered some high praise from his coordinator; Nielsen described his play as the best of his career.
Falcons DC Ryan Nielsen said he thinks this is the best CB Jeff Okudah has been playing in his career.
"Jeff, he is a willing worker. He is always trying to get better."
(My thought: Okudah is playing how I thought he might when Detroit drafted him so high in '20)
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) October 19, 2023
I recently explored a few way-too-early contract extension candidates, and Jeff Okudah might be #1 on the list. Injuries are certainly a concern, but if the former Lions third overall pick can stay healthy, I would love for the Falcons to make him a multi-year offer. Pairing him with A.J. Terrell would give this defense stability at one of the most important positions in the sport.
Photographer: Steven King/Icon Sportswire