2023 NFL Offseason: Atlanta Falcons


Atlanta Falcons (Last Year: 7-10)



2023 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Taylor Heinicke, WR Mack Hollins, WR Scotty Miller, TE Jonnu Smith, DE Bud Dupree, DT Calais Campbell, DT David Onyemata, DT Eddie Goldman, LB Kaden Elliss, CB Jeff Okudah, CB Mike Hughes, S Jessie Bates, S Tre Flowers.
Early Draft Picks:
RB Bijan Robinson, OT/G Matthew Bergeron, DE Zach Harrison, CB Clark Phillips. Falcons Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
QB Marcus Mariota, WR Olamide Zaccheaus, TE Parker Hesse, G Elijah Wilkinson, LB Rashaan Evans, CB Casey Hayward, CB Rashad Fenton.

2023 Atlanta Falcons Offense:
While some draft analysts believed that Bijan Robinson would fall into the 20s of the 2023 NFL Draft, it was always evident that he would be a top-12 pick, given that numerous teams considered him to be the top prospect in the class. Atlanta pulled the trigger on him at No. 8 overall. Though the Falcons weren’t the ideal team to draft a running back in the first round, given that they don’t have any near-term Super Bowl aspirations, there’s no doubt that Robinson will completely enhance their offense. Not only is Robinson a terrific runner; he’s also a very dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield. Robinson has been used all over the field in practices this summer, so it’ll be interesting to see how head coach Arthur Smith utilizes him in real action.

The Falcons made sure to complement Robinson with a potential offensive line upgrade, selecting Matthew Bergeron in the second round. Bergeron is capable of playing both tackle and guard, and he’ll begin his career at left guard, which was a big problem area for Atlanta last year. If Bergeron pans out, he and Chris Lindstrom could form an excellent guard duo, as Lindstrom is an elite player at the position. They’ll sandwich Drew Dalman, a below-average center.

The rest of the offensive line is comprised by a couple of talented tackles in Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary. Matthews is now in his 30s, so there could be some regression in the near future, though there were no signs of that last year. McGary, conversely, has emerged as one of the better right tackles in the NFL after a slow start to his career.

With the offensive line blocking well, and Robinson serving as a distraction in the backfield, Desmond Ridder will have every chance to succeed. Ridder saw action late in his rookie campaign last year, but did not perform nearly as well as he did in the preseason. Ridder’s accuracy wasn’t ideal, though there is definitely room for improvement now that he has experience.

Ridder will also benefit from being able to throw to Kyle Pitts, who was injured when Ridder stepped in as a starter. Pitts played just 10 games because of a torn ACL, but he is reportedly on schedule for his recovery. His presence will be key, as it’ll open things up for everyone else, including second-year wideout Drake London, who was impressive this past season. The Falcons didn’t have much else at receiver last year, so they signed Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller to join the starting lineup. Miller is not expected to do much, but Hollins was decent when given the opportunity with the Raiders in 2022.





2023 Atlanta Falcons Defense:
It’s almost impossible to recall when the Falcons haven’t needed a talented edge rusher. They’ve been ranked dead last in pressure rate in each of the past two seasons. It seemed reasonable to expect that Atlanta would finally address that need this offseason, but that did not occur. The best the Falcons could do was sign Bud Dupree, who hasn’t been the same since he tore his ACL a couple of seasons ago. That said, Dupree is another year removed from this injury, so he could finally revert back to form. Regardless, he figures to bookend Arnold Ebiketie, a second-round pick from the 2022 NFL Draft. Ebiketie will need to perform better than he did as a rookie, given that he notched just 2.5 sacks last season. Third-round rookie Zach Harrison could see some playing time as well.

Despite the missing upgrades at defensive end, it’s reasonable to expect the Falcons to improve their ability to generate pressure. That’s because they acquired two talented defensive tackles this spring. One was Calais Campbell, who isn’t quite the same player he was in his prime. However, Campbell still had a very productive season for the Ravens last year, so despite his age (37 as of September), Campbell is still expected to be a difference-maker in the trenches. The second new defensive tackle is David Onyemata, who is coming off a bit of a down year with the Saints after thriving in 2020 and 2021. Campbell and Onyemata will form quite the rotation along with Grady Jarrett, who has been the Falcons’ lone pass-rushing presence for several years.

If the Falcons get anything out of their pass rush in 2023, it’ll obviously help a secondary that was bolstered by another acquisition. That would be Jessie Bates, who is one of the better, young safeties in the NFL. Safety has been a problem area for the Falcons ever since Keanu Neal began suffering injuries, so that should no longer be the case with Bates on the roster. Bates and Richie Grant should form a fine safety tandem.

Another new defensive back on the roster is Jeff Okudah, who was obtained in a trade from the Lions. Okudah has been a bust as a former No. 3 overall pick, but injuries have been the primary catalyst for his poor play. If Okudah can remain healthy, perhaps he’ll finally live up to his potential. It’ll also help that he won’t be asked to cover No. 1 receivers, given that the top cornerback on the roster is the talented A.J. Terrell. Mike Hughes, meanwhile, will be a pedestrian option in the slot. Perhaps fourth-round rookie Clark Phillips will overtake him.

Rounding out the defense, the linebacking corps has also been bolstered by a newcomer. That would be another former Saint, Kaden Elliss, who had a solid 2022 campaign despite being drafted in the seventh round a few years prior. It remains to be seen who will start next to Elliss. There will be a competition between Mykal Walker and Troy Andersen, both of whom are underwhelming options.





2023 Atlanta Falcons Schedule and Intangibles:
Matt Ryan was 58-39 at home. However, the Falcons have been a poor 39-44 as a host over the past nine years, so perhaps the magic has vanished.

Master of the onside kick, Younghoe Koo was 37-of-39 on field goals in 2020, 27-of-29 in 2021, and then 32-of-37 last year. He’s 19-of-24 from 50-plus in that span!

Bradley Pinion was just 19th in net punting average last year.

Atlanta has so many easy opponents on the schedule. Outside of battles against the Lions and Jets, all of the games are winnable.



2023 Atlanta Falcons Rookies:
Go here for the Falcons Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.



2023 Atlanta Falcons Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Quarterbacks
Offensive Line
Secondary
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams
Receivers
Linebackers
Coaching


2023 Atlanta Falcons Analysis: Atlanta’s record might not be much better than it was last year, but it must be noted that the Falcons had some very lucky victories in 2022. Even if that regresses to the mean, Atlanta will have a chance to accumulate a better record than it did this past season because of the numerous upgrades the front office made during the spring. The Falcons should be considered favorites to win the NFC South.

Projection: 8-9 (1st in NFC South)

2022 Projection: 2-15. 2022 Actual Result: 7-10.
2021 Projection: 4-13. 2021 Actual Result: 7-10.
2020 Projection: 6-10. 2020 Actual Result: 4-12.
2019 Projection: 10-6. 2019 Actual Result: 7-9.
2018 Projection: 9-7. 2018 Actual Result: 7-9.
2017 Projection: 13-3. 2017 Actual Result: 10-6.
2016 Projection: 5-11. 2016 Actual Result: 11-5.

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2023 NFL Draft: The Falcons might be the best team in the NFC South, but they still need lots of help. The offensive line, receivers, linebackers and secondary are all underwhelming. They also could find someone to challenge Desmond Ridder. Worst of all, their pass rush has been ranked worst in pressure rate in each of the past two years.

2023 NFL Draft Accomplishments: I love Bijan Robinson as a prospect, but the Falcons should not have drafted him. First-round running backs make sense for teams that are Super Bowl contenders, but Atlanta doesn’t qualify as such. By the time the Falcons are ready to make a run deep into the playoffs, Robinson will have some mileage on his legs.

That said, the Falcons made some quality selections during the second and third days of the draft. Matthew Bergeron could have been chosen in the first round, yet Atlanta obtained him in the second frame to serve as a needed upgrade on the offensive line. Zach Harrison was a fine choice in the third round to provide some much-needed help to the pass rush. Clark Phillips was a steal in the fourth to help the secondary.

As a result of these solid selections, Atlanta made up for its first-round blunder. Still, this draft class could have been so much better had the Falcons focused more on improving their team for the long haul, especially given that running back wasn’t even a need for them.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

8. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas – C Grade
Bijan Robinson was tabbed as the most talented prospect in this class by numerous teams Charlie Campbell talked to during the pre-draft process. Thus, I can’t hate on this pick very much. However, I’m not a big fan. Teams that aren’t instant Super Bowl contenders should not use first-round picks on running backs because by the time they’re good enough to make a run deep into the playoffs, the running back they chose in the opening round will have too much wear and tear on his body. That will be the case with the Falcons, who should have focused on obtaining a player at another position.


38. Matthew Bergeron, OT/G, Syracuse – B+ Grade
I slotted Matthew Bergeron at the end of my final mock draft. He’s a versatile player who can play tackle and guard, and he was terrific at the combine. The Falcons really needed offensive line help, as they went to the Super Bowl in 2016 because they had an elite blocking unit. The offensive line had been hurting ever since.


75. Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State – B+ Grade
The Falcons finally address their dreadful pass rush. This is right range for Zach Harrison, who is a bit raw but has high potential because of his athletic ability. Atlanta needs to keep adding to its defensive line, however.


113. Clark Phillips, CB, Utah – A Grade
The Falcons drafting a cornerback should be a surprise to no one, so this definitely fills a big need. Clark Phillips is a talented cornerback, but has size issues. He’ll be limited to nickel play, but that’s what Atlanta is looking for, so I like this pick.


224. Demarco Hellams, S, Alabama – B- Grade
Demarco Hellams needs to show improved pass-coverage ability. That’s not something you want to hear about a safety. Still, he can help in run support at least.


225. Jovaughn Gwynn, C/G, South Carolina – C+ Grade
Jovaughn Gwynn is a scrappy and versatile interior blocker, but he will have trouble making the roster because of his severe size limitations.




Season Summary:
The Falcons played a bunch of close games to begin the year and looked as though they could possibly win the division. The wheels fell off, however, and the team must now fill countless holes on the roster.






Offseason Moves:
  • Falcons sign DE Bud Dupree
  • Falcons acquire CB Jeff Okudah from Lions for 5th-round pick
  • Falcons sign DT Calais Campbell
  • Falcons sign WR Scotty Miller
  • Falcons sign CB Mike Hughes
  • Falcons sign WR Mack Hollins
  • Falcons sign QB Taylor Heinicke
  • Falcons sign S Jessie Bates
  • Falcons sign DT David Onyemata
  • Falcons acquire TE Jonnu Smith from Patriots






    Team Needs:
    1. Quarterback: Desmond Ridder has some potential, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll be a franchise quarterback. Atlanta could draft someone or potentially pursue Lamar Jackson. Signed Taylor Heinicke

    2. Two Defensive Ends: It’s remarkable that the Falcons have maintained the worst pressure rate in each of the past two years. They really need to bolster their pass rush. Signed Bud Dupree

    3. Two Wide Receivers: The Falcons missed Calvin Ridley last year. They need a replacement for him, as well as another upgrade at the position. Signed Mack Hollins

    4. Two Linebackers: I’m not breaking any news by pointing out that the Falcons had one of the worst linebacking corps in the NFL. Multiple upgrades are needed.

    5. Center: Atlanta must upgrade its offensive line for its new quarterback. Center is a big problem that must be addressed.



    6. Cornerback: There’s nothing around A.J. Terrell, so better cornerback play is desperately needed to pair with the new pass rushers. Signed Mike Hughes; traded for Jeff Okudah

    7. Safety: Cornerback isn’t the only position of need in the secondary. Signed Jessie Bates

    8. Defensive Tackle: Here’s more needed help for the defensive line. An upgrade is needed next to Grady Jarrett. Signed Calais Campbell and David Onyemata

    9. Right Tackle: Kaleb McGary is an impending free agent, so he must be replaced or re-signed. Re-signed Kaleb McGary


      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.






    2023 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Jessie Bates, S, Bengals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Falcons (4 years, $64 million)

      Jessie Bates has seemingly been around forever, so it’s hard to believe that he’s only 26. He’s a stellar safety who is elite in run support.

    2. Calais Campbell, DT, Ravens. Age: 37.
      Signed with Falcons (1 year)

      Despite turning 37 on Sept. 1, Calais Campbell is still one of the better defensive linemen in the NFL. That said, he’s not the player he once was because he has to play fewer snaps. Still, he would be a great piece to add to any defensive line.

    3. David Onyemata, DT, Saints. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons (3 years, $35 million)

      David Onyemata has enjoyed some tremendous years in New Orleans, though he’s coming off a down season. He was rather average in 2022. He just turned 30, so perhaps he’s now on the decline.

    4. Bud Dupree, DE, Titans. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons (1 year, $5 million)

      Bud Dupree hasn’t been the same since his torn ACL. However, he’s now two years removed from that injury, so he could rebound in 2023.

    5. Mack Hollins, WR, Raiders. Age: 29.
      Signed with Falcons (1 year, $2.5 million)

      Mack Hollins is coming off his best season, catching 57 passes for 690 yards and four touchdowns. He had some solid performances when other players were injured.

    6. Taylor Heinicke, QB, Redskins. Age: 30.
      Signed with Falcons (2 years, $20 million)

      Taylor Heinicke has proven that he can be a strong backup in the NFL. He can win when everything is going right, though he sometimes makes some terrible decisions.

    7. Tre Flowers, S, Bengals. Age: 28. — Signed with Falcons
    8. Mike Hughes, CB, Lions. Age: 26. — Signed with Falcons
    9. Scotty Miller, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 26. — Signed with Falcons





    Atlanta Falcons Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Kaleb McGary, OT, Falcons. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Falcons (3 years, $34.5 million)

      Kaleb McGary has developed well after struggling early in his career. He’s an above-average pass protector, but he’s terrific when it comes to run blocking.

    2. Keith Smith, FB, Falcons. Age: 31.
      Re-signed with Falcons (1 year)

      Keith Smith is a solid run blocker who was instrumental in Atlanta’s rushing attack working so well. Unfortunately, he’s now 31.

    3. Parker Hesse, TE, Falcons. Age: 28.
      Parker Hesse doesn’t offer much as a receiver, but he’s an excellent blocker for this position.

    4. Marcus Mariota, QB, Falcons. Age: 29.
      Signed with Eagles (1 year, $5 million)

      Marcus Mariota did not perform well as Atlanta’s starter last year, but he shouldn’t have been starting in the first place. Mariota figures to be a premium backup in the NFL for the next five or so years.

    5. Rashaan Evans, LB, Falcons. Age: 26.
    6. Rashad Fenton, CB, Falcons. Age: 26. — Signed with Cardinals
    7. Olamide Zaccheaus, WR, Falcons. Age: 26. — Signed with Eagles
    8. Elijah Wilkinson, G, Falcons. Age: 28.
    9. Isaiah Oliver, CB, Falcons. Age: 27. — Signed with 49ers
    10. Mike Ford, CB, Falcons. Age: 28. — Signed with Browns
    11. MyCole Pruitt, TE, Falcons. Age: 31.
    12. Anthony Firkser, TE, Falcons. Age: 28.
    13. Chuma Edoga, G, Falcons. Age: 26. — Signed with Cowboys
    14. KhaDarel Hodge, WR, Falcons. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Falcons
    15. Damiere Byrd, WR, Falcons. Age: 30. — Signed with Panthers
    16. Cornell Armstrong, CB, Falcons. Age: 28. — Re-signed with Falcons
    17. Erik Harris, S, Falcons. Age: 33.
    18. Germain Ifedi, OT, Falcons. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions
    19. Colby Gossett, G, Falcons. Age: 28. — Signed with Browns
    20. Jaleel Johnson, DT, Falcons. Age: 29.
    21. Vincent Taylor, DT, Falcons. Age: 29.
    22. Nick Kwiatkoski, LB, Falcons. Age: 30.



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