1. The no-spin zone: Falcons running back Bijan Robinson was respectful of the veterans, but he is looking forward to his role in the offense.
“Being a guy that can play running back, play receiver, kind of be really versatile, it’s an opportunity to do the same thing,” Robinson said. “It’s definitely a blessing. I’m happy to share it with those guys as well.”
Tyler Allgeier ended last season as the starter and finished with 1,035 yards rushing. Cordarrelle Patterson opened the season as the starter and was among the NFL leaders in rushing when he sustained a knee injury.
Caleb Huntley came on before he suffered a ruptured Achilles.
The Falcons also have running backs Avery Williams and B.J. Baylor on the 90-man roster.
Falcons coach Arthur Smith has promised to tailor the attack to fit all of the weapons and play to the strengths of quarterback Desmond Ridder.
“The offense is really good with really good talent,” Robinson said. “For me, I just want to be a piece in that offense, man, and do as much as I can no matter where they line me up at. I’m just trying to help the offense.”
Texas coach Steve Sarkisian told a story about how his wide receivers would get mad when he used Robinson in the slot. He did so because Robinson had better hands than the wide receivers.
“I know that the rushing attack is really, really good, with a really good running back already,” Robinson said. “Man, I just want to go in there and learn from (Allgeier) and be a good teammate. Hopefully, we can make something special happen out of it.”
Robinson sensed the Falcons’ interest after a workout in Austin after the NFL owner’s meeting in early April.
“We had an amazing time talking about scheme, what could happen, what we can do,” Robinson said. “When we were getting to really know each other, obviously they’re all great, great guys to work with. I mean, I’m just really happy that they took me.”
Smith, general manager Terry Fontenot and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone attended the workout along with “the strength coach and the player personnel guy,” Robinson said.
2. Offensive line: Guard Matthew Bergeron and guard/center Jovaughn Gwyn were added in the draft in the second and seventh rounds, respectively.
“We feel good about the depth and where we’re at with the (offensive) line, but we know if you are not constantly building that, a run of bad luck, you want to be able to develop guys and guys that have been in your program,” Smith said. “So, if you have to play, or like we talked about, the competitive nature of our camp, certainly Jovaughn will bring that to the interior offensive line room.”
Under Smith, the Falcons have used varying approaches with rookie offensive linemen. They started third-round pick Jalen Mayfield as a rookie in 2021.
They tried to alternate center Drew Dalman in at center as a rookie in 2021 before he became the starter last season.
Last season, guard Justin Shaffer spent most of the season on injured reserve.
The left-guard position is open, and there will be competition for the spot this offseason and in training camp.
3. Power 5 draft: All of the Falcons’ 2023 draft picks played at Power 5 schools and were productive.
Bergeron wasn’t heavily recruited out of Canada, while third-round pick Zach Harrison was a five-star recruit.
“They played at a high level in a lot of football games, but I’ve been a part of places that have taken flyers post-draft on a guy that may have been a big recruit and didn’t really get on the field in college for whatever reason, and they want to kick the tires,” Smith said. “But these guys – all these guys, whether you’re a five-star recruit, three-star recruit, they found a way to play at some of the top programs in the country.”
Cornerback Clark Phillips III, a fourth-round pick, committed to Ohio State before landing at Utah.
“It’s all about perspective,” Smith said. “When you have these tags and if it doesn’t go the way right away, you’re more encouraged when they fight through it. So, I look at that as a positive in certain aspects.”
4. Draft assets: The Falcons used some of their draft capital to move up to select Bergeron, trade for cornerback Jeff Okudah (giving up a fifth-rounder) and tight end Jonnu Smith (giving up a seventh-rounder).
“All the draft picks are assets,” Fontenot said. “OK, we can figure out a way to – whether we’re using a pick to go up and get a player or move them back. So, they’re all assets.”
Okudah was the third player taken in the 2020 draft by the Lions.
“We kind of look at it even with guys like that, like with Jeff Okudah or Jonnu,” Fontenot said. “It’s going to take a draft pick and somebody to go get them. It’s more about that. You weigh it.
“Ok, if you are using this draft pick, you won’t be able to draft a player there, but it’s just literally when we really like players, no different than there are some players that we had to move around for, some players we were patient with. But when we have passion and conviction, whether we’re talking about a free agent, whether we’re talking about a draft pick, you have to be disciplined.”
5. Numbers game: For the folks who care about jersey numbers, Robinson is set to wear No. 7.
Kicker Younghoe Koo formerly wore the number which previously was not used after Michael Vick’s tenure with the team.
6. Terrell’s option: The Falcons, as expected, will pick up cornerback A.J. Terrell’s fifth-year option of $12.34 million.
Terrell was picked 16th overall in 2020 and has been a starter since his rookie season. A total of 12 of the 32 first-round picks had their options picked up by Tuesday’s deadline.
7. One more round: When the Falcons sign players not selected in the NFL draft, they call it the “eighth round.”
Two days after the conclusion of the 2023 draft, the “eighth round” yielded six undrafted free agents Monday – including former Clemson and LSU linebacker Mike Jones Jr.
Jones played in 20 games at Clemson from 2018-20, including the 42-25 national championship game loss to LSU following the 2019 regular season. Team captain in the last of his two seasons at LSU, Jones appeared in all 14 games in 2022 and recorded 21 tackles.
Other players signed Monday:
- Rice defensive lineman Ikenna Enechukwu (6-foot-4, 264 pounds)
- Oklahoma Baptist wide receiver Keilahn Harris (6-0, 180)
- Henderson State wide receiver Xavier Malone (5-9, 180)
- Buffalo wide receiver Justin Marshall (6-3, 210)
- Southeastern Louisiana running back Carlos Washington Jr. (5-11, 220).
Marshall started his career at Louisville and totaled 100 receptions for 1,381 yards and 10 touchdowns in four seasons with the Cardinals and Bulls.
8. Depth chart: The Falcons drafted three offensive players and three defensive players that must be added to their projected depth chart.
Robinson and Bergeron have paths to the starting lineup, but rookies must start at the back of the line on the depth chart.
Harrison, Phillips III and safety DeMarcco Hellams also have paths to the field, but must move their way up the depth chart.
Smith referenced the depth chart when asked if Phillips could play at safety.
“I was joking about it last night, about D. Led’s depth chart, but teams have become so multiple,” said Smith, who’s apparently a big fan of the depth chart. “When we’re sitting there, and teams want to bring a lot of pressure and they’re trying to disguise everything. You take a nickel corner and you’re bringing pressure.
“All of a sudden, he goes and plays the back half. That’s what’s in vogue right now, multiple schemes in the back end.”
The defense is still aligned in a 3-4 from the last game the Falcons played.
New defensive coordinator Ryan Neilson plans to play more multiple schemes and when we see them, we’ll adjust the depth chart. We expecting mostly hybrid 3-4/4-3 with a variety of nickel package options.
“Final coverage, sometimes when you’re trying to trick these quarterbacks, so what that does is you show them something and then guys are now in the middle like a little read player in Cover 2 that you used to see Brian Urlacher run,” Smith said. “It was always the (middle) linebacker.”
This should sound familiar. This was what Mike Smith and Mike Nolan did with the Falcons a few years back, but Kroy Biermann was the runner. Free-agent linebacker Kaden Elliss could play this role for Nielson.
Nobody is inventing a new defense that we haven’t seen.
“Now, guys are multiple,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it’s nickel, sometimes corner, safety.”
That’s why the Falcons keep stressing versatility so they can be multiple depending on matchups.
“So, these guys that have a lot of experience coming in and that’s where the game is going,” Smith said. “No different than the offensive skill guys. I know that’s – but, I just want to give context to it. It’s not as big of a leap sometimes with some of these players because they’ve done (some) of these jobs before depending on the schemes they’ve come from.”
Here’s what the updated depth chart looks like after draft (undrafted rookies have not been added):
QB – Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside, Feleipe Franks
RB –Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, *Caleb Huntley, B.J. Baylor, Bijan Robinson
FB – Keith Smith, Clint Ratkovich
WR – Drake London, KhaDarel Hodge, Frank Darby, *Jared Bernhardt, Josh Ali
TE – *Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick, Tucker Fisk, John Raine
LT – Jake Matthews, Germain Ifedi
LG –Kyle Hinton, Matt Hennessy, *Jalen Mayfield, *Justin Shaffer, Matt Bergeron
C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison
RG – Chris Lindstrom, Jovaughn Gwyn
RT – Kaleb McGary, Tyler Vrabel, Joshua Miles, Ethan Greenidge
WR – Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, Ra’Shaun Henry
OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, DeAngelo Malone
DE – Grady Jarrett, Timothy Horne
NT – Eddie Goldman, *Ta’Quon Graham, Jalen Dalton
DE – David Onyemata, Joe Gaziano
OLB – Calais Campbell, Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, David Anenih, Zach Harrison
ILB – Kaden Elliss, Dorian Etheridge, Tae Davis
ILB – Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman
CB – A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes (nickel), Dylan Mabin, Javelin Guidry, Clark Phillips III,
FS – Jessie Bates III, Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy
SS – Richie Grant, Jamal Peters, DeMarcco Hellams
CB – Jeff Okudah, Cornell Armstrong, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, Matt Hankins, John Reid
K – Younghoe Koo
P/H – Bradley Pinion
LS – Liam McCullough
PR – Avery Williams
KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson or Avery Williams
Note: Players who ended the season on injured reserve have an asterisk.
9. AJC’S 2023 POSITION-BY-POSITION DRAFT SERIES
WIDE RECEIVERS – Past few drafts have spoiled NFL teams looking for wide receivers | Top 10 WRs
RUNNING BACKS – Running backs Bijan Robinson, Jahmyr Gibbs may have to wait to hear their names called | Top 10 RBs
TIGHT ENDS – Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer heads a dee TE class | Top 10 TEs
QUARTERBACKS – Bryce Young’s small stature no longer an issue in the NFL | Top 10 QBs
OFFENSIVE LINE – Skoronski’s short arm length being scrutinized for left tackle | Top 5 C,G, &OTs
DEFENSIVE LINE – Is Jalen Carter the real deal or a potential bust? | Top 5 DTs, DEs
LINEBACKERS – Dutchtown’s Will Anderson expected to go in the top 5 of NFL draft | Top LBs
CORNERBACKS – Former Georgia standout Kelee Ringo one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL draft | Top CBs
SAFETIES – Alabama’s Brian Branch, Jordan Battle are top safeties in the NFL draft | Top FS/SS
SPECIAL TEAMS – Michigan’s Jake Moody hopes to kick way to NFL draft | Top STs
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