There might not be a more improved roster from last season to 2023 than the Falcons. Outside of adding another top 10 draft pick, the club was finally able to get out from underneath the record-breaking amount of dead money after inheriting an expensive, aging roster from the former regime.
The Falcons added most of the free agents to the defensive side of the ball and return most of the starters from a surprisingly good offense last year. They added Jonnu Smith, Bijan Robinson, and Matthew Bergeron to the offense while adding Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Bud Dupree, and Kaden Elliss, among others, to the defense.
It features elite players at multiple positions and depth pieces, but none were acknowledged in PFF’s best duo at every position piece.
DEFENSIVE INTERIOR: DEXTER LAWRENCE AND LEONARD WILLIAMS, NEW YORK GIANTS
In 2022, Lawrence broke out in a big way, as he and Chris Jones are the only two interior defenders to ever finish with a higher PFF grade than Aaron Donald in a season since he entered the league in 2014. While 2022 was Lawrence’s breakout season, Williams has been one of the most consistently reliable players since he entered the league in 2015, never having a PFF grade lower than 70 in his eight seasons.
Grady Jarrett and one of Calais Campbell/David Onyemata deserve to be at least mentioned. Dexter Lawrence is a top 5 interior defender, but Jarrett and Onyemata are both superior to Leonard Williams. It’s nitpicking, but the next one is absolutely wild.
TIGHT END: DAVID NJOKU AND JORDAN AKINS, CLEVELAND BROWNS
This one was a little tricky, as not too many teams typically feature multiple impact tight ends. The New England Patriots will likely do so more than anyone after signing Mike Gesicki in free agency, but both he and Hunter Henry are coming off down years, so they missed out on the top spot. Instead, we’re going with the Browns here after adding Jordan Akins from the Houston Texans. Both Njoku and newcomer Akins are coming off career years in 2022. Njoku put up a PFF grade of 73.7 with a 78.7 receiving grade and a 76.3 pass-blocking grade while catching 58 passes for 628 yards and four touchdowns. Akins put up similar numbers with a 72.4 PFF grade, 74.3 receiving grade while recording career highs in PFF grade (72.4), catches (37), yards (495), and touchdowns (five). Together, this duo should give Deshaun Watson a multitude of options to work with to help the Browns return to the playoffs in 2023.
Are we joking? Kyle Pitts is somehow being forgotten as a phenom and being drug down by a disappointing 2022 campaign marred by inconsistent quarterback play and offensive play calling that took away opportunities. Jonnu Smith was also once considered a top 5 player at his position before signing a deal with the Patriots. To go unacknowledged is a shame.
RUNNING BACK: AARON JONES AND A.J. DILLON, GREEN BAY PACKERS
For the longest time, this spot would be occupied by the Cleveland Browns‘ Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but because Hunt is still a free agent, the nod goes to Jones and Dillon. This was an easy choice as both Jones and Dillon received top-five rushing grades at 90.7 and 88.1, respectively. On top of that, Jones was tenth in the NFL with 1121 rushing yards with 2 rushing scores and added another 395 receiving yards through the air and 5 scores. Dillon put up 770 yards on the ground with 7 touchdowns of his own.
Once again, not even mention Atlanta’s backfield is egregious. The pair of Tyler Allgeier and Cordarrelle Patterson put up similar numbers as Jones and Dillon last year. PFF noted that rookies wouldn’t be considered, so that’s why I won’t bring up Bijan Robinson, but I don’t need to. Allgeier and Patterson might not be better than Green Bay’s duo; however, once again, I’m just asking them to be acknowledged.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire