The 2023 Falcons look much different than the 2022 team. Armed with a third-straight top-10 pick and a mountain of cap space, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith dramatically improved the roster, but which position group improved the most?
The bones of the offense remain intact. There were some additions, like Scott Miller and Mack Hollins to the receiver room, but neither would be a WR3 in most locker rooms. Jonnu Smith and Bijan Robinson are both worthwhile acquisitions, but tight end and running back were strengths before each arrived. The offensive line returns four starters, with Matthew Bergeron aiming to lock up the starting left guard role. Desmond Ridder replaces Marcus Mariota, and that’s about it.
The defense is where the changes get dramatic.
The prize of the offseason was Jessie Bates III, who inked a lucrative four-year deal at the start of the free agency period. He’ll provide an array of skills to solidify the backend, but most importantly, he’ll raise the bar of everyone else’s play in the secondary.
The Falcons also acquired a pair of former first-round cornerbacks in Mike Hughes via free agency and Jeff Okudah via trade. Atlanta used a fourth-round pick on Utah corner Clark Phillips as well, who projects as a slot.
The safety unit is much improved, but the cornerback room isn’t all that impressive. Hughes, Okudah, Phillips, Darren Hall, Dee Alford, and Tre Flowers is much deeper than the 2022 group; however, the top end talent doesn’t jump off the page.
Hughes will likely man the slot, while Okudah assumes the boundary opposite A.J. Terrell. Is that even marginally better than Isaiah Oliver and a healthy Casey Hayward? I don’t think so.
It’s still a vastly improved secondary because of the depth at corner and the influx of an All-Pro in Jessie Bates III, though. It’s just not the most improved position group.
There might not be a more improved position group in all of football, and I don’t even mean that in a hyperbolic sense.
In 2022, the Falcons relied heavily on Abdullah Anderson, Timmy Horne, and Jalen Dalton. Rashaan Evans and Mykal Walker took a bulk of the linebacker snaps, while Lorenzo Carter and Ade Ogjundeji assumed a majority of the edge snaps.
In 2023, Timmy Horne might not even make the roster. Ta’Quon Graham took the second most snaps by an interior defender and might not even start; Evans and Walker have been replaced. Carter will still play a prominent role, but Ogundeji will assume a reserve role.
The Falcons have by far the deepest rotation along the defensive front they’ve had in years.
Calais Campbell joins on a one-year deal and will assume a true defensive end/edge role. David Onyemata gives Grady Jarrett the best running mate of his career. Eddie Goldman returns from retirement and will take those nose tackle snaps.
Kaden Elliss and Troy Andersen man the second level. Elliss is a hybrid player that can rush the passer effectively, while Andersen is a former second-round pick with big expectations.
Arnold Ebiketie is in the same conversation as Andersen. He joins Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter, DeAngelo Malone, and Ogundeji in the edge room. A lot of this group’s potential depends on Ebiketie’s development, but Carter can give the Falcons reliable play, and Dupree is a veteran looking to prove he’s worth another lucrative multi-year free-agent deal; he’s motivated.
Across the line of scrimmage, the Falcons are 12+ deep, with a plethora of guys that can rush the passer. It should be the best defense since the regime took over.
Photographer: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire
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