FLOWERY BRANCH - The Falcons lack proven roster depth. While that’s bad news for their bottom line, it’s good news for their youngsters, who will have every opportunity to earn significant playing time for a team rebuilding its talent infrastructure.

I’m not going to tell you this rookie class needs to make an immediate impact. The Falcons probably will rank among the NFL’s worst teams regardless of how the first-year players fare. Instead, there needs to be signs of progression, reasons for optimism.

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A couple of days at rookie camp, you won’t hear any negatives. Drake London looks like the towering target he is. Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen are working to become key defensive pieces. Quarterback Desmond Ridder, as you’d imagine, was a popular topic. He’s already shown the fiery leadership qualities teams raved about throughout the pre-draft process.

“If he got here and was a mute, I’d be a little concerned,” coach Arthur Smith said. “So I guess he passed Day 1. He’s as advertised in that regard.”

Linebacker DeAngelo Malone, running back Tyler Allgeier, guard Justin Shaffer and tight end John FitzPatrick round out the team’s draft class. Malone, Allgeier and Shaffer have a real opportunity to play sizable snaps. FitzPatrick, who described himself as a “dominant run blocker,” has the skills and mentality to stick around as a reserve tight end and special-teams player.

Falcons offensive tackle Jake Matthews said last month, “We don’t look at this as a rebuilding year or anything like that.” File that under the what-else-is-he-supposed-to-say category. It doesn’t matter what one labels it. The Falcons aren’t competing for anything meaningful in 2022. They know their reality, too, even if the expanded playoffs and weaker NFC landscape might let crazy thoughts seep in.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons rookie running back Tyler Allgeier discusses his durability.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

That takes us back to the rookie class. Contenders don’t typically rely on multiple rookies as starters because they have veterans in front of them. Rebuilding teams do rely on rookies because the priority is getting them reps over selling out to win games with 30-plus-year-old starters. The Falcons fall into the latter category. They don’t have enough veteran talent to block their youngsters, so these players will have the chance to make an impact quickly.

That’s good news because you want to see rookies play and grow. That’s bad news because it likely means the team won’t be very good. Even if the season goes the way many expect, there can be long-term positives. I direct you to general manager Terry Fontenot’s recent words: “We know we are not solving all the problems. We are doing it one player at a time, and we are focusing on the process.”

Rookie receivers never have been more explosive, so expectations for London will be high. He’ll also be constantly compared with his peers – he was the first of six first-round receivers – and that’s fair. But the Falcons care only about the player they selected, the individual they bet would be the best of another stacked receiver class.

London’s over/under on receiving yards is 739.5, per the Action Network. His over/under on touchdowns is 4.5. Assuming good health, I like him to go over in both categories, especially with touchdowns. Even if he’s slow to get acclimated, he’ll be an immediate red-zone target.

Ridder obviously is the player with the most potential to change the organization, but he’s also the rookie least likely to play early. We won’t get much into him here, but a couple of tidbits: He said the only person who beat him into the facility Saturday morning was offensive lineman Tyler Vrabel. Of course that was a coach’s son. And here’s a noteworthy quote when Ridder was asked about his leadership style. He impresses with his confidence and maturity.

“I want to win,” Ridder said. “That’s what I try to instill that in (my teammates). Just go out there and be a winner. If there’s one person on this team that doesn’t think they’re the best person when they step on this field, then we’re at a disadvantage already. Let’s get the guys who think we’re always the best. Let’s go be the best. Because we put in the work to be the best and then go prove it.”

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Falcons’ John FitzPatrick of Georgia talks about his first rookie minicamp

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Ebiketie, the team’s second-round edge rusher, might start from Day 1. He could be a game-changer for this draft class. The Falcons’ pass rush has been pathetic for too long. Today’s NFL is about quarterbacks and those who protect and hit them.

We know the Falcons have lacked a consistent quarterback hunter since John Abraham. It’s hard to get worse than last season. The Falcons released the underwhelming Dante Fowler, who nonetheless led the team with 4.5 sacks. Linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, who led the NFL in tackles and was tied for the Falcons’ second-most sacks at two, (yes, two) signed with Jacksonville. For now, the Falcons’ top returning sack producer is inside linebacker Deion Jones (two), whose contract status makes him a candidate to change teams before the campaign.

The Falcons had 18 sacks, worst in the NFL and 11 – ELEVEN – behind the second-worst Eagles. The Falcons’ 59 quarterback hits also were the worst, four fewer than Detroit. As a result, opponents scored on 44.7% of drives against the Falcons, the fifth-highest mark in the league, and they averaged 3 minutes, 11 seconds per possession, the second highest total in the league behind only abominable Jacksonville (3:13).

Pressures and sacks kill drives. The Falcons didn’t muster much of either. As such, they stood no hope against top-tier quarterbacks.

Critics of the London pick almost always cite the team’s need for pass rush. The Falcons, well aware of such shortcomings, took Ebiketie in the second round. If he turns into a regular third-down menace, he very well could be the best pick in their draft (unless Ridder hits).

Ebiketie and free-agent signee Lorenzo Carter aren’t going to suddenly become Demarcus Ware and Von Miller to transform the defense. But Ebiketie will have the chance to log reps and learn as he goes. The team will cross its fingers that he figures it out because his athletic profile gives hope to him one day becoming a Pro Bowl-level pass rusher.

“I’m motivated to come in, get better and improve on my craft,” Ebiketie said when I asked him about potentially playing a lot early. “That’s the first step. Learn the scheme, get better. I don’t want to look too far ahead. I want to live in the present moment.”

Allgeier, a bruiser who easily could outproduce his fifth-round draft slot, likewise will have the chance to produce. With Cordarrelle Patterson moving around, Damien Williams is the only other notable running back on the depth chart. I wouldn’t be surprised if Allgeier takes over as the team’s primary back early. How he fares in the passing game, as a protector and receiver, might determine how soon that occurs.

Andersen is particularly intriguing. He’s a good athlete who has experience at multiple positions, which gives him unique perspective. He’s behind veterans Jones and Rashaan Evans, but Andersen should earn a bigger role. If the Falcons move off Jones, Andersen obviously would be bumped into a starting linebacker spot.

A lot of people liked Malone coming out of Western Kentucky. You can’t have enough edge depth. Could he overtake Carter at some point for the other edge spot? Possibly. But he’ll be worked in regardless. FitzPatrick knows he’ll do the dirty work. He embraces that. Those players are valuable at the bottom of the roster. His former Georgia teammate Shaffer should provide interior-line depth. The starting left-guard spot is wide open, and Shaffer will be part of the competition.

The Falcons are trying to build the core of their next contending team. From that view, this is an exciting time. Maybe this rookie class will provide answers. That they’ll get so much experience this season should pay off down the road – and give the Falcons a bit more clarity when they enter next offseason loaded with cap space and premium draft capital.