The NFL Draft is over, which means everyone and their mothers have grades for players that likely won’t realize their full potential until 2025. That doesn’t stop the knee jerk reactions and hot takes, of which there are many for the Falcons. Here are some of the bigger names in media and how they see Atlanta’s 2023 draft class.
USA Today’s Nate Davis: C-
If you subscribe to drafting by the “best player available” theory, then it’s hard to quibble with first-round RB Bijan Robinson, who should be a true game breaker, and second-round OL Matthew Bergeron … so there’s that. But is this team really going to coalesce into a legit Super Bowl contender before a good chunk of Robinson’s tread is worn off? And Bergeron seems a luxury given the strength of the O-line relative to holes elsewhere – to say nothing of the mystery that is QB Desmond Ridder.
Davis very conveniently leaves out Atlanta’s free agent class that featured mainly defenders. Of course, that doesn’t fit the narrative. Terry Fontenot does in fact subscribe to the best player available method, but the “needs” of this team go far beyond what could be fixed in 2023. The Falcons filled those holes through free agency to give themselves an opportunity to remain flexible in the draft.
ESPN’s Mel Kiper: B-
Check out the positions I listed above. There’s no running back there. The Falcons got a fantastic rookie season from fifth-rounder Tyler Allgeier, and yet they took Bijan Robinson at No. 8 overall. For a team that went 7-10 and has more than a few roster holes, I just don’t get it. If Atlanta was a Super Bowl favorite? OK, go for a luxury pick in the top 10. I wouldn’t love it, but I’d get the logic.
Look, Robinson is a tremendous prospect. He might win Rookie of the Year in Arthur’s Smith’s offense. But the Falcons could get 90% of his production from Allgeier and a couple of Day 3 options. Smith said Thursday night that Robinson is “a lot more than a running back,” but that doesn’t make this a good selection. They could have gone with cornerback Christian Gonzalez or defensive tackle Jalen Carter or edge rusher Nolan Smith and gotten better value.
Elsewhere, I liked the addition of Matthew Bergeron (38), who it seems will move to guard for the Falcons. He started 39 games at tackle in college.
One question I have coming out of this draft for the Falcons: Who’s rushing the passer? I don’t see a vastly improved defensive depth chart. Calais Campbell, who will turn 37 before the season begins, is not going to get them 10 sacks. Third-round pick Zach Harrison (75) had just 3.5 sacks at Ohio State last season.
Kiper, like Davis, conveniently leaves out the free agent class. Well, Mr. Kiper, here is who will be rushing the passer: Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Grady Jarrett, Ta’Quon Graham, Arnold Ebiketie, along with other edge defenders in Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, and DeAngelo Malone. The Falcons might not have a double-digit sack guy, but the group is much improved, which includes the secondary.
Fox Sports: C+
Having the league’s No. 3 run game and using a top-10 pick on running back Bijan Robinson is bold, but also seems neglectful of more obvious needs. Their pass rush should have been a priority, and third-rounder Zach Harrison feels like a half-measure. Did they need to trade up to 38 for guard Matthew Bergeron? Keep in mind they also got corner Jeff Okudah by dealing a fifth-rounder, so there’s impact there. —Greg Auman
Once again, the pass rush is the focus. Everything I’ve said applies here too.
NFL’s Chad Reuter: A-
Analysis: The multi-faceted Robinson was the best value available for a team trying to build an elite offense. Trading up for Bergeron made sense because of his guard/tackle versatility and Harrison fits as a long, strong base end.
Phillips is small but tenacious; he’ll flourish in the slot for the Falcons from Day 1. They picked up a downhill safety in Hellams and short but ferocious center/guard in Gwyn. Signing free agent receivers should be a priority for Atlanta after the draft.
Thank you, Chad Reuter.
Pro Football Focus: B+
Teams wouldn’t usually receive an “average” grade for taking a running back in the top 10, but it’s hard to dislike this pick too much, given how good Bijan Robinson was in 2022. An impressive athlete at 220 pounds, he set a PFF college record with 104 missed tackles forced in 2022, producing a 95.3 PFF grade in the process.
Listen, I can criticize these grades all day long, but the fact remains that they nor I know how any of these guys is going to turn out. The Falcons stuck to their strategy and came away with high-character players. Whether that is the right decision or not won’t be revealed until years down the road.
Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire
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