The Falcons got better this offseason, much better. Atlanta went out and spent a mountain of cap space on a majority of free agent defenders, bolstering every level. The offense returns a bulk of its starters, including the additions of Jonnu Smith, Bijan Robinson, and Matthew Bergeron.
Vegas loves what the Falcons did in the draft. The club’s win total increased by a full game from 7.5 to 8.5, and their odds of taking the NFC South increased from +300 to +250. So, regardless of what your favorite media pundit thinks of the Falcons, they’re probably not paying attention to what’s happening in Flowery Branch.
So, let’s check out some of these naysayers.
NFL.com: Rank 23
Let’s start positively: Bijan Robinson is an enormous talent with the ability to become an immediate superstar in 2023. Problem is, anything less than instant greatness will make you wonder if the Falcons made the wrong decision with the eighth overall pick. Atlanta already has an excellent young backfield presence in 1,000-yard rusher Tyler Allgeier, and while Falcons coach Arthur Smith contended on Thursday night that Robinson is “a lot more than a running back,” the University of Texas star is not an elite edge rusher, franchise quarterback or starting-caliber player at receiver/cornerback — all bigger needs for Atlanta entering the draft. Let’s see how this one plays out.
NFL media is letting the Falcons prove them wrong. I like that.
Peter King: Rank 22
22. Atlanta. One thing I think: The Falcons offense has the most diverse weaponry of any offense in football; imagine trying to defend monstrous Cordarrelle Patterson and Jonnu Smith, big-man receiver Drake London and elusive Bijan Robinson in the slot, and 1,000-yard-rusher Tyler Allgeier as a sledgehammer alternative.
Peter King’s opinion should be respected, and I think the 22nd ranking is fair, considering we don’t know what Desmond Ridder is going to bring.
USA Today: Rank 25
25. Falcons (22): Underestimate HC Arthur Smith and Atlanta at your peril … even if it feels like they overestimated what RB Bijan Robinson can provide in the long run while undervaluing what stability and quality under center can do for a franchise.
USA Today is pointing out the lack of a franchise quarterback, and that’s true, but what would they have liked the Falcons to do? Draft Will Levis? That’s the only quarterback that would’ve been available at the 8th overall pick. No, that would’ve been a gross overdraft, considering Levis ended up going in the second round. The Falcons dropped from the 22nd-ranked team to the 25th because of the draft; they’re not paying attention.
Bleacher Report: Rank 29
Last year, the Atlanta Falcons ranked third in the NFL in rushing at 159.9 yards per game. No team in the league ran the ball more than the team’s 559 attempts.
Those numbers aren’t likely to change much in 2023 because the Falcons did something Thursday that no NFL team had done since 2018: use a top-10 pick on a running back.
It was a pick that raised a few eyebrows, but Moton believes it was a continuation of a solid offseason.
“With the addition of tight end Jonnu Smith in a trade and wideout Mack Hollins in free agency, Atlanta has assembled a group of towering pass-catchers. The Falcons’ official website lists Smith, Hollins, Drake London and Kyle Pitts at 6’3″ or taller,” he said. “The Falcons could field a top-10 scoring offense next season, and they may not have to win scoring shootouts.
“Atlanta finished the 2022 campaign with a defense that ranked 23rd or worse in points and yards allowed,” he continued. “Between free agency and the draft, the front office poured its resources into that side of the ball. The Falcons signed Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Kaden Elliss, Bud Dupree and Mike Hughes in free agency. They also drafted defensive lineman Zach Harrison and slot cornerback Clark Phillips III in the third and fourth rounds, respectively.”
“Atlanta could compete for a division title with Tom Brady transitioning into his post-career years in retirement.”
Bleacher Report quoted Maurice Moton about the work the Falcons did to improve their defense this offseason, along with its ascending offense, and still decided to rank them 29th because they’re the Falcons. How could the Falcons finish with the 8th overall pick and drop all the way to the third-worst team in football?
PFF: Rank 27
The Falcons signed one of the best safeties in the league in Jessie Bates III after their 2022 safeties ranked 26th in defensive grade, so this is a much-needed upgrade. In the front seven, Atlanta went with a platoon approach, adding interior defenders David Onyemata and Calais Campbell, edge rusher Bud Dupree and linebacker Kaden Elliss.
While Robinson will produce right out of the gate, the Falcons still have other positions they need to address with top-end talent, including edge rusher, wide receiver and outside cornerback.
The Falcons actually took a step back in PFF’s power rankings. Pre-draft, the Falcons ranked 24th, so clearly, the subjective nature of these rankings is showing through. Vegas improving the club’s win total and odds to take the division should be enough for fans to know they did well in the draft.
Moreover, I’d like to ask the PFF writer who exactly Atlanta should’ve taken with their 8th pick instead of Bijan Robinson.
A wide receiver? They drafted Drake London last year and are a run-dominant offense; Jaxson Smith-Njigba was the first wide receiver taken, and he went 20th overall. So, PFF is suggesting the Falcons take him 12 picks before?
An outside cornerback? As if Christian Gonzalez didn’t experience a massive slide down draft boards, selected 17th overall while being mocked to go in the top 10. There also wasn’t a single edge rusher outside of Will Anderson and Tyree Wilson worth taking in the top 10.
PFF, like many outlets, is just seeing what they want.
Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire
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