The Falcons are entering the 2023 campaign with entirely different expectations than the prior two seasons under the new regime. Arthur Smith’s job isn’t on the line, but it is playoffs or bust for Atlanta.
When the new regime took over, the roster was old, expensive, and lacked the talent to compete seriously within the division, let alone the entire league. Now, Terry Fontenot and Smith are out from underneath the dead money incurred from moving on from those expensive aging veterans and have assembled by far the most complete roster in their tenures.
The most notable changes come on the defensive side of the ball, with playmaking additions arriving on all three levels. The gem of the free agent class, and the most lucrative contract handed out, was Jessie Bates III. The All-Pro safety will act as a quarterback on the backend of the defense and should provide immense value in Richie Grant’s development.
The secondary also saw a few cornerback additions in Mike Hughes, Jeff Okudah, and Clark Phillips. Cornell Armstrong and Darren Hall were starting games for the Falcons last year; the depth is much improved from a season ago, even if the top end talent hasn’t.
Kaden Elliss, Lorenzo Carter, and Bud Dupree were added to the second level, but the most notable difference comes across the defensive line.
For the first time in quite a while, the Falcons have a healthy rotation of defenders in the trenches. Grady Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham are joined by David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Eddie Goldman. It’s by far the deepest and most talented group in Jarrett’s Falcons career.
The offense also features the most talent since Arthur Smith took over.
The line returns four of five starters, and second-round pick Matthew Bergeron is primed to secure the left guard role. That kind of continuity cannot be understated; it’s an incredibly important and consistent facet of successful offensive lines.
Moreover, the league might not have a more talented group of skill-position players.
Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, and the recently drafted Bijan Robinson form the best skill group Atlanta has seen since the club went to the Super Bowl over 5 years ago.
There is one key difference, though — the quarterback position. As mentioned before, this is the third signal caller in as many seasons for Smith, but Desmond Ridder is set up for success more so than Matt Ryan and Marcus Mariota.
If Ridder cannot succeed in this situation, there aren’t many others he would. He has ample support on both sides of the ball to lead the Falcons to the playoffs. Given the state of the NFC South, it’s certainly in the realm of possibilities that Desmond Ridder delivers a home playoff game for the first time since 2017.
Arthur Smith elaborated to Jim Rome of CBS Sports on the expectations for Ridder in what is essentially his rookie season:
.@AtlantaFalcons HC Arthur Smith on expectations for Desmond Ridder this season. pic.twitter.com/Gd8yeZAMST
— Jim Rome (@jimrome) May 16, 2023
It was a lot of coach speak, but the main takeaway should be the only expectation for Ridder is to consistently improve and win football games. If the Falcons fail to reach the postseason, the quarterback position will once again be a hot topic in the offseason as to whether Desmond Ridder is the long-term answer.
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