Falcons new-look defense could feature as many as 9 new starters in 2023

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The Falcons are a much-improved team; in fact, it’s by far the most talented roster since the new regime took over. For the first time in their tenures, there are legitimate expectations for Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot to challenge for a playoff berth.

The offense features four returning starters up front, with a position battle for left guard between Matt Hennessy and Matthew Bergeron. A unit that ranked among the league’s best sticks together; continuity is consistently an overlooked facet of successful offensive lines. But that isn’t what’s going to sell tickets.

By season’s end, the skill group will be regarded as one the best in football. Bijan Robinson and Jonnu Smith join Drake London, Kyle Pitts, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson. The versatility and explosiveness of the unit will keep defensive coordinators up at night, racking their brains to stop Arthur Smith’s offense.

However, wholesale changes came on the defensive side of the ball, so much so that we could see as many as nine new starters on that side of the ball in 2023.

Terry Fontenot did not mess around, adding talent at all three levels — Jessie Bates III, Mike Hughes, Jeff Okudah, Kaden Elliss, Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, and Eddie Goldman. That’s a stark difference from Week 1 of 2022. Below is the depth chart from last year’s season opener against the Saints:

2022 Week 1 Falcons Starting Lineup

It’s going to look much different in 2023. With starters now assuming rotational roles, it will be the deepest defense the Falcons have had in quite a long time. Below is a projected starting lineup out of a base defense:

Projected 2023 Week 1 Falcons Starting Lineup

Position Starter Backup Reserve Reserve Reserve
DL Grady Jarrett Ta’Quon Graham
DL David Onyemata Eddie Goldman
DL Calais Campbell Zach Harrison Timmy Horne
OLB Arnold Ebiketie DeAngelo Malone Adetokunbo Ogundeji
LB Troy Andersen Mykal Walker Dorian Etheridge
LB Kaden Elliss Tae Davis Nate Landman
OLB Lorenzo Carter Bud Dupree
CB A.J. Terrell Mike Hughes Clark Phillips Tre Flowers
S Richie Grant Jaylinn Hawkins
S Jessie Bates III DeMarcco Hellams
CB Jeff Okudah Darren Hall Dee Alford

That is only four returning starters — Grady Jarrett, Lorenzo Carter, A.J. Terrell, and Richie Grant. Still, Carter isn’t guaranteed a starting role, especially with the competition at the edge position.

The point of this exercise is to highlight the difference in last year’s defense compared to this year. The Falcons relied on backups to assume starting roles and will now feature starting-caliber defenders in featured roles. It’s an exciting time in Atlanta.

Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire


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