Falcons recognized among the league’s most improved teams in 2023

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For the first time since the new regime took over in Atlanta, there are legitimate expectations for the Falcons.

Not only is the roster the best of Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot’s tenure, but the NFC South and the conference as a whole are wide open. However, more importantly, the personnel is dramatically improved from a year ago.

There could be as many as nine new starters on the defensive side of the ball, which has long been a sore spot in Atlanta. Thanks to a mountain of cap space, the Falcons were able to add impact defenders at all three levels.

Jessie Bates III, David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, and Kaden Elliss headline the free agent class, but there were other additions as well — Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Bud Dupree, Lorenzo Carter, and Eddie Goldman.

That doesn’t even take into account the talent already present — Grady Jarrett, AJ Terrell, Ta’Quon Graham — and the up-and-coming pieces — Richie Grant, Troy Andersen, and Arnold Ebiketie.

Offensively, the front returns four starters and features a second-rounder in Matthew Bergeron, aiming for the starting left guard position. That will again be one of the better units in football, but the excitement is all about the skill group.

Bijan Robinson and Jonnu Smith join Kyle Pitts, Drake London, Tyler Allgeier, and Cordarrelle Patterson to form what will be regarded as one of the best skill groups in football by season’s end.

Top to bottom, there might not be a more improved roster from 2022 to 2023, which is why the Falcons made Marc Sessler of NFL.com’s list of the most improved teams in football.

The Falcons have morphed into a hammer. They emit the vibe of an old-school Belichickian Patriots squad ready to blast through teams like it’s 2001.

A mountain of cap space allowed the club to splurge, but the pieces fit. The front office wisely sealed up their own young talent with new deals for guard Chris Lindstrom and tackle Kaleb McGary. The Falcons then peered beyond to pad their offense — trading for Arthur Smith’s former pupil Jonnu Smith and signing plucky backup passer Taylor Heinicke — while amping up the defense with deals for Jessie BatesDavid Onyemata and Calais Campbell. Atlanta also sent a fifth-rounder to the Lions for a chance on hot-and-cold cover man Jeff Okudah.

The Falcons then added strength on strength in the draft, picking up offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron out of Syracuse after landing electric runner Bijan Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick. With Tyler Allgeier already a backfield force, the Falcons are a logical candidate to lead the league in rushing attempts — especially when it’s unclear if Desmond Ridder is the answer.

I have talked about it before, but Desmond Ridder is going to be the reason this team underachieves in 2023. The roster is positioned to compete right now, and the third-rounder will be tasked with keeping the Ferrari on the road.

Arthur Smith’s offense is relatively quarterback-friendly, so Ridder won’t be tasked with a ton but will have to make a few big-time throws every game. Whether or not the Falcons succeed in 2023 rests on their young quarterback’s shoulders.

Photographer: Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire


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