Former NFL GM on Falcons’ “hidden gem” draft pick

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The Falcons have drafted several players who made immediate impacts as rookies.

Kyle Pitts and Avery Williams were the most notable from the 2021 class, while Drake London and Tyler Allgeier set franchise records last season.

Bijan Robinson is the obvious answer for 2023, but Matthew Bergeron should have every chance to be the team’s starting left guard. Both are primed to contribute in big ways this season; however, the gem of the class is Clark Phillips, according to former NFL GM Rick Spielman.

Clark Phillips was another fun player to watch on tape. He has great ball skills as a small corner, but he played outside in the Pac-12 and did a great job covering those receivers. He’s tough, gritty and will come up in run support. Where he fell is because he didn’t run fast enough at the combine. When you have a small corner (5’9, 184 pounds) that’s quicker than fast, you’re going to put him in as the nickel to cover the slot receivers. Phillips is smart, he’ll be a starter at nickel for the Falcons.

Spielman’s track record with the Vikings has some incredibly impressive draft picks — Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter, Stefon Diggs, Justin Jefferson — and some that weren’t — Laquon Treadwell, Mike Hughes, Kellen Mond. Just like every GM, he didn’t bat 1.000, but he’s done enough to be able to comment on other clubs’ draft classes.

Speilman’s take that Phillips will be a starter at nickel for the Falcons isn’t outlandish; in fact, I could see it coming to fruition as early as this season. I don’t know if Speilman is implying that, but it’s in the realm of possibilities.

Mike Hughes will be Phillips’ stiffest competition, but he’s not exactly the most proficient option; he’s bounced around the league for a reason. The Falcons won’t force Clark Phillips into a role he’s not ready for, but they’ll give him every opportunity to take the starting role.

If Phillips doesn’t seize the starting nickel position, it’s not the end of the world; he will eventually take over those responsibilities.

Photographer: Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire

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