Cover 9@9: A closer look at the Falcons’ seventh-round draft picks

Atlanta Falcons DB DeMarcco Hellams (37) runs a drill during Day 2 of Falcons rookie minicamp at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin /



Atlanta Falcons DB DeMarcco Hellams (37) runs a drill during Day 2 of Falcons rookie minicamp at Atlanta Falcons Training Facility, Saturday, May 13, 2023, in Flowery Branch. (Hyosub Shin /

1. The no-spin zone. Let’s shine the light on the Falcons’ seventh-round draft choices today.

The Falcons, making their first seventh-round picks in the Terry Fontenot-Arthur Smith era, took Alabama safety DeMarcco Hellams (224 overall) and South Carolina guard/center Jovaughn Gwyn (225) in the NFL draft.

With most off the attention on running back Bijan Robinson and the top of the draft, the seventh-rounders sometimes get overlooked. The Falcons haven’t hit on a seven-round pick since they selected Georgia Tech’s Vance Walker in 2009.

Walker went on to play 104 NFL games and made 32 NFL starts. He played for the Falcons (2009-12), Raiders (2013), Chiefs (2014) and Broncos (2015). He won a ring with the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.

Running back Jason Snelling was a seventh-round hit in 2007. The Falcons also had seventh-round hits in Todd McClure (1999, 198 games), Kynan Forney (2001, 98 games) and Kevin Shaffer (2002, 132 games).

I thought offensive tackle Andrew “The President” Jackson, a seventh-rounder out of Fresno State, in 2011 was going to make it.

So, it can be done.

Hellams, who played at DeMatha Catholic in suburban Washington, D.C., finished his career at Alabama with 255 tackles. He was the Washington Post’s offensive player of the year in 2018 after catching 21 touchdown passes.

He was more of a boundary/strong safety at Alabama, but also can play some field/free safety.

“It was a great experience for me to get out there with my new coaches,” Hellams said at the rookie minicamp. “Just to be playing football again. I’ve been training for the draft, combine training and things like that.”

The Falcons have rebuilt the safety position over the past three seasons. They added Richie Grant (second round) in the 2021 draft and signed Jessie Bates in free agency. Jaylinn Hawkins also is on the roster, while they moved on from Duron Harmon last season and have not re-signed veteran Erik Harris this offseason.

There’s a path through the special-teams units for Hellams to make the roster.

“Just my overall versatility is something that can help me on the next level,” Hellams said. “Also, playing for coach (Nick) Saban, I’m used to a complex playbook. I’m used to having to adjust and things like that. I’m used to a high-level of competition. I definitely feel like Alabama prepared me very well for the next level as far as on-the-field and off-the-field stuff.

He’s familiar with the Falcons’ stadium.

“I played in Mercedes-Benz (Stadium) a lot of times,” Hellams said. “Definitely, getting a call from the Falcons, I definitely felt that it was the right fit for me. It was definitely a blessing. I’m just grateful to be here.”

He is looking forward to learning for Bates.

“I definitely have (studied Bates),” Hellams said. “He’s definitely a great player. Having a great safety like Jessie is definitely a great person to look up to and watch their game, watch how they practice, watch how they play and study just because he’s (done) it at the NFL level. That’s what I’m looking to do. Definitely learning from him will be something great for me.”

Smith spent some time with Gwyn when he went to the South Carolina coaching clinic. Also, Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford tried to recruit Gwyn out of Harding University High in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he was at N.C. State. (I covered old Harding High when coach Tom Knott was there. He would go on to become an N.C. coaching legend.)

“He was a productive guy,” Smith said. “He was the leader – and you could feel it – he was a leader in that building, leader of that line. There’s nothing fake about him.”

Gwyn is 6-foot-2 and 297 pounds and in today’s game, that’s undersized.

“But when you talk about a guy that (you) consistently see (complete blocks) over and over and over again, not just in the big games when they’re up,” Smith said. “When you are looking at them and they’re down, how are they playing in the fourth quarter, that’s a guy that you know exactly what you are bringing into this building. We’ll see how it works out.”

He played guard for the Gamecocks, but Smith wants to see him at center, and that’s where he lined up during the open portion of the rookie minicamp practices.

Gwyn said the key for him is learning the playbook and making the middle-linebacker calls at center.

“They drafted me. No matter where they drafted me, I’m going to come in here and work and do what I’m supposed to do,” said Gwyn, who is Robinson’s roommate.

2. Real attendance numbers, please: My offseason dream is that we’ll return to getting real attendance numbers next season. With the Falcons projected to return to respectability, maybe we can get some actual attendance numbers at the games and not the fake “tickets distributed” number.

We’ve been leaving that number out of stories because it doesn’t tell us how many people actually are in the building: turnstile count.

Let’s here it for the RETURN OF REAL ATTENDANCE numbers!!!

We haven’t been getting the real numbers for a few years. Here’s Tim Tucker’s piece from 2019 about the accounting going on.

The story was titled: Here are the real numbers on Falcons, Atlanta United attendance!

3. Matt Ryan headed to TV booth, but not retiring: The quarterback with the most wins and the only NFL MVP in Falcons history is headed to the TV booth for the 2023 NFL season.

But Matt Ryan – who ranks seventh in NFL history in career passing yards – quickly pointed out on social media Monday that he’s not retiring and plans to keep his football options open.

The former Falcons quarterback, who will turn 38 on May 17, is set to join CBS Sports as a NFL analyst next season. Although Ryan admitted that “it’s an honor to join this exceptional team at CBS Sports,” the 2016 MVP and four-time Pro Bowler also added the move is “not a retirement” announcement after 15 NFL seasons.

The third pick in the 2008 draft, Ryan started all 16 games as a rookie – earning offensive rookie-of-the-year honors – and led the Falcons to the playoffs. Over the next 13 seasons, Ryan started 208 games and was named league MVP in 2016 with 4,944 yards passing, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions.

Ryan has 62,792 career passing yards, seventh on the all-time list behind Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. He earned the nickname “Matty Ice” for his end-of-game performances, leading the team to 38 comeback wins and 46 game-winning scoring drives.

Ryan holds most of the franchise’s passing records – passing yards, touchdowns, completions, attempts and passer rating. He led the Falcons to six playoff berths, including an NFC Championship game appearance after the 2012 season and the Super Bowl after his 2016 MVP season.

After the Falcons failed in their March 2022 pursuit of quarterback Deshaun Watson – who was seeking a trade from the Texans and eventually ended up with the Browns – they traded Ryan to the Colts for a third-round pick. Ryan had a rocky 4-7-1 season in Indianapolis in 2022, and was released by the franchise two months ago, March 15. He’s holding out hope that the market will open for a veteran quarterback – while also starting a career in broadcasting.

“As one of the NFL’s marquee quarterbacks for the past 15 years, we’re thrilled to add Matt to our talented roster of NFL analysts,” Harold Bryant, CBS Sports executive producer and executive vice president of production, said in a news release. “He has played the game at the highest level ... (he) will bring a fresh perspective to CBS Sports. We look forward to Matt sharing his knowledge, insight and opinions with our viewers and bolstering our NFL coverage.”

3. Good luck to Emery: Former Falcons scout Phil Emery, 64, decided to retire.

We wish him the best in retirement after he served two stints with the Falcons.

4. Falcons schedule: We broke down the Falcons 2023 schedule in great detail.

In a Twitter poll, the fans mostly thought the schedule makers were fair to the Falcons.

6. 2023 draft bios: Here’s the link to the bios of the Falcons’ 2023 draft class.

7. Pass-rush blues: Going to write me a song called, “The Pass Rush Blues.”

We’re going to dedicate it to Vic Beasley, the last Falcons player to reach double-digit sacks.

Zach Harrison, who was taken in the third round, became the latest defensive linemen taken in the draft with hopes of helping the pass-rush.

We took a look back at the franchise’s drafts since 2013. The best defensive lineman drafted was Grady Jarrett in the fifth round of the 2015 draft that also netted Beasley, who leads this group with 37.5 career sacks. Jarrett has 32.5.

Here’s look at the defensive lineman drafted since 2013:

2013 -- Malliciah Goodman, fourth round, zero career sacks.

2014 -- Ra’Shede Hageman, second round, four career sacks.

2015 -- Beasley and Jarrett (70 sacks combined)

2016 -- No defensive lineman drafted.

2017 -- Takk McKinley, first round, 20 career sacks (17.5 with the Falcons).

2018 -- Deadrin Senat, third round, one career sack.

2019 -- John Cominsky, fourth round, 5.5 career sacks (1.5 with the Falcons).

2020 -- Marlon Davidson, second round, one career sack

2021 -- Ta’Quon Graham and Ade Ogundeji (OLB/DE), both in fifth round – Graham zero career sacks, Ogundeji three.

2022 -- Arnold Ebiketie, second round, and DeAngelo Malone, third round. Both OLB/DE. Ebiketie had 2.5 sacks as a rookie, and Malone had one.

2023 -- Zach Harrison, third round.

The draft list doesn’t even account for Dante Fowler, who signed a three-year, $45 million free-agent deal in 2020 with the hopes of jump-starting the pass rush. He has 41 career sacks and 7.5 in his two seasons with the Falcons.

The draft list also doesn’t account for the great Dwight Freeney’s season in 2016. He played in 15 games and had three sacks. He started in the Super Bowl and was the buffer between Beasley and defensive line coach Bryan Cox.

8. Pass-rush help on the way? In addition to drafting Harrison, the Falcons signed eight players who have amassed 192.5 sacks in the NFL.

Calais Campbell (99), Bud Dupre (46.5), David Onyemata (23), Eddie Goldman (13), Kaden Elliss (8), Tae Davis (2) and Joe Grazizno (1).

The Falcons will need a solid showing from Campbell, who’s set to turn 37 on Dec. 1, and hope that he can teach the young players a few things.

The Falcons also will need a strong season from Dupree, who’s been battling injuries and hasn’t played in all 16 games since 2019. (Now, a season is 17 games.)

9. Depth chart: Upon conclusion of their rookie minicamp, the Falcons made several back-end-of-the roster moves, highlighted by the signing of linebacker Andre Smith Jr., who also spent time with the Panthers, Bills and Titans.

Smith, who played at North Carolina, has played in 51 NFL games. He has played 920 snaps on special teams and 83 snaps on defense.

Wide receiver Slade Bolden, who played at Alabama, did enough to impress the coaches and move ahead of Ra’Shaun Henry, who was released. Bolden, who’s 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, spent time with the Ravens.

In addition to Smith and Bolden, defensive back Natrone Brooks (Southern Mississippi) and defensive back Clifford Chattman (Texas-San Antonio) were signed, according to the Falcons.

Safety Lukas Denis, defensive tackle LaCale London and tackle Barry Wesley, also signed with the Falcons, according to the XFL.

The Falcons also released linebacker David Anenih (Houston), running back B.J. Baylor (Oregon State), cornerback Javelin Guidry (Utah), cornerback Matt Hankins (Iowa), wide receiver Ra’Shaun Henry (Virginia), cornerback Dylan Mabin (Fordham) and tight end/fullback John Raine (Northwestern). Baylor was designated as waived/injured.

The Falcons list their roster as being at 87 players. The three unannounced XFLers would put them at 90.

Here’s what the updated depth chart looks like after rookie minicamp (with the XFLers):


QB – Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside, Feleipe Franks

RB – Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, Avery Williams, *Caleb Huntley, Carlos Washington Jr.

FB – Keith Smith, Clint Ratkovich

WR – Drake London, KhaDarel Hodge, Frank Darby, *Jared Bernhardt, Justin Marshall

TE – *Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Germain Ifedi, Barry Wesley

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, Shane Bolden, Josh Ali, Keilahn Harris, Xavier Malone


OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, DeAngelo Malone

DE – Grady Jarrett, Timothy Horne, LaCale London

NT – Eddie Goldman, *Ta’Quon Graham, Jalen Dalton

DE – David Onyemata, Joe Gaziano, Ikenna Enechukwu

OLB – Calais Campbell, Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Zach Harrison

ILB – Kaden Elliss, Dorian Etheridge, Tae Davis, Andre Smith Jr.

ILB – Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman, Mike Jones Jr.

CB – A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes (nickel), Natrone Brooks, Clark Phillips III

FS – Jessie Bates III, Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy, Lukas Denis

SS – Richie Grant, Jamal Peters, DeMarcco Hellams, Clifford Chattman

CB – Jeff Okudah, Cornell Armstrong, Tre Flowers, Dee Alford, Darren Hall

NB – Mike Hughes, Clark Phillips III


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.

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