The Falcons acquired a ton of new talent this offseason. Much of the club’s activity addressed the defensive side of the ball, but there were a couple of notable acquisitions on the offense.
Jonnu Smith joins over from New England via trade, and Bijan Robinson went 8th overall, giving Arthur Smith two more versatile weapons. The line returns four of five starters, while the Falcons drafted Matthew Bergeron in the second round, hoping the Syracuse tackle can secure the starting left guard position.
But as I said, the major renovations came on the other side of the ball. Ryan Nielsen takes over for Dean Pees, and Terry Fontenot added high end talent as well as depth pieces to a group that desperately needed both.
Jessie Bates, the prize of the free agent class, inked the largest deal among newcomers and will command the backend. He’s just entering his prime and should quarterback a newly formed defense. Moreover, his impact on Richie Grant‘s development cannot be understated.
Calais Campbell and David Onyemata join Grady Jarrett along the interior, bumping Eddie Goldman and Ta’Quon Graham into rotational roles. And one that might not show up on everyone’s radar right now but will eventually make a name for himself is Kaden Elliss. Coming over from New Orleans, his former co-defensive coordinator, Nielsen, knows exactly how to use him — a Swiss Army Knife.
The roster as a whole is noticeably better from a year ago, but the external additions can’t do it all. The Falcons are depending very heavily on the internal development of their draft picks, particularly the 2022 draft class.
Fontenot has done what feels like a pretty good job drafting, but it’s up to the coaching staff to do their part and develop those youngsters. Though the defense has improved on paper, Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen will have significant impacts on the group’s ceiling.
Bud Dupree and Lorenzo Carter provide a high floor for the edge unit, but Ebiketie needs to establish himself as a reliable pass rusher. His breakout could volley this defense into an elite one. And the same goes for Andersen.
Heralded for his athletism coming out of Montana State, he looked indecisive and lost in coverage but possesses the tools necessary to be an impactful three-down linebacker when the game slows down for him.
DeAngelo Malone shouldn’t be counted out either. Though he’s not as high-profile of a draft pick as Ebiketie, he’s still a third-rounder and possesses similar potential. I’m excited to see what he can become.
Tyler Allgeier broke the Falcons’ franchise record for rushing yards but could take his game to another level, especially with Bijan Robinson and Cordarrelle Patterson there to keep him fresh. Another record breaker, Drake London, is in the same conversation as Allgeier — obviously, he could improve, but he had an excellent rookie campaign, nonetheless.
However, none of those members of the 2022 draft class have more riding on their development than third-rounder Desmond Ridder. The Cincinnati product only started four games last year and had mixed results, but the entire organization heaps praise on his intangibles. He’ll never have the most talented arm; however, he’s got enough physical talent to get the job done if he’s elite between the ears, which he seems to have the desire to become.
The Falcons have a roster ready to compete in the playoffs. Though it’s premature to call them contenders, the quarterback position is the single biggest question mark for Atlanta entering 2023. If Ridder can be even average, the Dirty Birds will be back in the postseason, hosting a playoff game as NFC South champions for the first time since 2016.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire