Ten Questions for the Atlanta Falcons: What Should We Expect From the Rookie Class?

NFL Combine
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As we get closer to the start of the 2023 NFL Season, we’re running through ten questions that’ll affect the Atlanta Falcons. We previously dissected the wide receiver position, took a deep dive into their offensive line, looked at how they might utilize their running back rotation, and examined how they could support Desmond Ridder. Today we’ll focus on their incoming rookie class and how they might impact the team’s playoff hopes.

The Atlanta Falcons made six draft choices in the 2023 NFL Draft, and the biggest name of the bunch was running back Bijan Robinson. The rest of their choices including offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron, defensive lineman Zach Harrison, cornerback Clark Phillips III, safety DeMarcco Hellams, and guard Jovaughn Gwyn.

It’s important to note that the Falcons additionally traded a fifth-round pick for cornerback Jeff Okudah and a seventh-round pick for tight end Jonnu Smith. Although neither player will affect this particular deep-dive, Atlanta is hoping both players will outproduce whoever they might have drafted at the respective spots from those traded picks.

Bijan Robinson (8th Overall) – Running Back: As running backs have become devalued over the last decade, there were questions over the value a potential team might get from drafting Robinson in the first round. Some estimations had the Falcons taking him as high as eight, but there was a strong argument that they could have traded down later into the first and picked up additional picks while also still grabbing him.

All of that aside, Robinson has a strong chance as one of the favorites to win Offensive Rookie of the Year based on his overall skill set, his fit within coach Arthur Smith’s offense, and the heavy workload he’s expected to receive once the season kicks off. The long-term value might still be in question, but it’d be shocking if his rookie year is anything but a success.

Matthew Bergeron (38th Overall) – Offensive Lineman: As the Falcons continue to find fits for Smith’s offense, Bergeron seemed like an ideal selection due to his ability to play multiple roles along the line. He split time at left and right tackle during his time at Syracuse and lined up at guard during the 2023 Senior Bowl.

He’s currently listed as the starting left guard on Atlanta’s depth chart and unless he struggles significantly during training camp, I’d expect him to hold down that spot throughout the rest of the season. His strength as a run-blocker will fit perfectly as Atlanta aims to establish a smashmouth team, and he’ll have strong support along the offensive line with several productive veterans next to him.

Zach Harrison (75th Overall) – Defensive Lineman: The Atlanta Falcons have seemingly struggled to establish a consistent pass-rush for over a decade now. They might have a strong season here and there, but overall, their sacks and overall quarterback disruptions tend to be a weakness for their defense (and team as a whole).

Unlike Robinson and Bergeron though, Zach Harrison is seemingly buried on the team’s depth chart after numerous off-season additions. Bud Dupree, Kaden Elliss, David Onyemata, and Calais Campbell all joined the team during free agency, and as the team aims to end their playoff drought, will likely focus on giving all of those veterans as much playing time as possible.

It’s fair to assume that Harrison will serve a strictly rotational role throughout the year and spell the starters when only completely necessary. Atlanta likely viewed him as more of a long-term prospect, and at only 21 years old, they have time to slowly adjust him into the NFL and help him develop as a professional.

Clark Phillips III (113th Overall) – Defensive Back: Clark Phillips III isn’t a player who passes the typical standard for a starting NFL cornerback, but he sure is a good football player, nonetheless. He’s a bit small and lean, but he’s a competitor who stood out any time you watched a University of Utah game last season.

Atlanta likely views him as their eventual full-time starter at the nickelback position, but currently he’s seemingly competing with Dee Alford and Mike Hughes for that spot. The Falcons have their top two spots secured with A.J. Terrell and Jeff Okudah, but if Phillips can impress during the rest of their offseason programs, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get more playing time than a standard fourth-round pick.

DeMarcco Hellams (224th Overall) – Safety: Seventh-round picks will always be a crapshoot – some teams go for potential whereas others go for proven winners who can play on special teams or be strong locker room fits. DeMarcco Hellams likely fell due to concerns about his athleticism, but it wouldn’t be shocking if he made an impact for the Falcons’ special teams unit. He was a productive college player who helped Alabama win a lot of games, and he’ll aim to do the same for Atlanta in whatever role he can.

Jovaughn Gwyn (225th Overall) – Guard: Gwyn will likely have to play strong in training camp and the pre-season to secure a roster spot with the Falcons this season. He has competition for the backup guard spots with Matt Hennessy and Jalen Mayfield, and he may be a better fit for the practice squad as he continues to develop his skills and transitions to playing professional football.

Overall, the Atlanta Falcons will have strong hopes for this rookie class. Between two likely full-time starters and two additional players fitting in rotational roles on defense, their production could go a long way towards the team making the playoffs or ending up with another high draft pick at the end of the season.