Culture is important for NFL teams; if everyone in an organization is focused on one goal, it is much easier to attain. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have placed emphasis on the integrity, intelligence, accountability, and toughness of players brought in via free agency and the draft. Before the draft, I told y’all exactly the type of prospect Fontenot and Smith would target:
Terry Fontenot has referenced the quote, “How you do anything is how you do everything,” multiple times to the media. It’s indicative of the type of culture he wants. In February, Fontenot elaborated on the quote by saying that a coach wouldn’t be a better coordinator than a position coach and that he truly believes in doing everything to the best of one’s ability — apparent in the meticulous approach he’s had with the draft.
He realizes people have aspirations and goals, but putting your head down and doing what’s in front of you exceptionally is more telling. It almost seems like there is a ‘Patriot-Esque’ way about him where all Fontenot cares about is “doing your job.” It is straightforward, but the culture has to be put in place and slowly built upon; it doesn’t just happen overnight. Arthur Smith breathes those same words, and in his introductory press conference, he harped on how he wants his players to be tough, physical, accountable, and smart.
It is evident they are placing an emphasis on high character players. Starting with the free-agent acquisitions — Erik Harris and Duron Harmon are both veteran safeties who have been touted for their immaculate leadership qualities. Harris trained with second-round pick Richie Grant this offseason, and the former Central Florida Knight even went as far as to describe the veteran as a ‘big brother’ after the pre-draft process. Harmon was a team captain in New England and Detroit — expect him to be one in Atlanta too.
Mike Davis is an Atlanta native, who brings a veteran presence to the running back room, and his passion for playing with his hometown team is apparent. The ‘do anything to help the team’ mentality is critical to an organization’s success, and Davis has it. Cordarrelle Patterson possesses this exact type of veteran unselfishness as well; count on him to be used in an array of ways in Arthur Smith’s offense and on special teams.
Moving on to the 2021 draft class, the trend of selecting high-character, selfless players continues. Beginning with Kyle Pitts, who is not only physically Julio Jones-Esque but also possesses a comparable mental makeup. The former Florida Gator was a by-example leader and a game captain; his interviews show impressive maturity and composure for a 20-year-old. The Falcons’ second-round pick, Richie Grant, has been praised for his on-field acumen and leadership. His hyper-aggressive nature makes him a prime candidate as a future captain on the back end of the defense — a third-level leader that Atlanta needs.
Third-round pick Jalen Mayfield was a lead-by-example guy for Michigan and the Wolverines offensive line, willing to do anything for his team. He’s a self-described selfless player and revels in his menacing approach to the game — a quarterback’s bodyguard. Fontenot spent one of his fourth-round picks on San Diego State’s Darren Hall, a team captain and the smartest member of the defense. He’s a real weight-room warrior who could develop into another leader on the back end. With the extra fourth-round selection picked up from the second-round trade with Denver, Fontenot drafted Drew Dalman. The former Stanford Cardinal was a team captain with a nasty demeanor and is highly touted as a hard-working individual. Both linemen drafted are nasty with their intentions, which will be the trend for Arthur Smith’s offensive line.
Ta’Quon Graham was the Falcons’ first of three fifth-round picks, and guess what… he was a captain at Texas. He’s a hard-nosed individual, and reports say that he was the Longhorn’s vocal leader — a different kind of leadership from the aforementioned rookies. Like Graham, Adetokunbo Ogundeji was a vocal captain at a prestigious college — Notre Dame. The last of the fifth-round picks, Avery Williams, was… A TEAM CAPTAIN. Frank Darby was an emotional firecracker in Arizona State’s locker room, who energized his teammates with his passion.
Moving onto the undrafted free agents… Austin Trammell, Bryce Hargrove, Jack Batho IV, Eli Howard, Dorian Etheridge, and Dwayne Johnson Jr. were all signed after the draft — all team captains in college. The culture has been set in one offseason; expect more of these types of draft picks and signings in future offseasons.