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Evaluating the Falcons 2023 draft class nearing the end of the regular season

From first-rounder Bijan Robinson to seventh-rounder DeMarcco Hellams, the Falcons 2023 rookies have made an impact. 

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Prospects for the Falcons 2023 rookie draft class looked promising in April, especially with No. 8 overall pick Bijan Robinson as the headliner.

Now, after almost a full season, we've seen most of the class play significant snaps and come into their own in their first professional year.

"They're going to go at rookies in this league," Falcons defensive/assistant coach Jerry Gray said. "If you can stand up, they'll leave you alone. But if you can't stand up, that's what every team does. They keep going back at you. Are you going to fight or you're not? Because that's what the league is about."

Note: This analysis only includes 2023 rookies the Falcons drafted and have appeared in almost all games through Week 15 of the regular season.

Bijan Robinson — first-round pick, No. 8 overall:

The first running back drafted in 2023 demonstrated as early as Week 1 why the Falcons were so high on him in the draft process. Bijan Robinson has continued to show that, too, throughout the season.

Robinson has recorded 1,124 all-purpose yards — 801 rushing and 323 receiving — through 14 games (one of which he only took one snap). The rookie running back could be the third first-year back to record 1,000 yards rushing in Falcons history following Tyler Allgeier who was the second in 2022.

Stats and flashy highlights stack his rookie resume, but those around him every day are more impressed with the 21-year-old's attitude.

"I can just speak to the way he practices, that's a ton of maturity for somebody who's so young," offensive lineman Chris Lindstrom said. "Just his approach, his mindset for everything and he's about as humble as a person can get."

Matthew Bergeron — second-round pick, No. 38 overall:

The Falcons already had a strong, consistent offensive line when they drafted Matthew Bergeron. The Canada native had a path of developing under starting left guard Matt Hennessy. Instead Bergeron was thrusted into the starting lineup when Hennessy went down with a season-ending injury in training camp.

The Syracuse product played tackle, not guard, in college. Bergeron said that was his biggest challenge at the beginning of the season, when the Falcons played the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. As Atlanta prepared for the Panthers again in Week 15, Bergeron saw tangible growth he made.

"I got used to playing guard; everything happens faster so I got better on (on the timing of) my hands and feet," Bergeron said. "It's been a constant growth."

Zach Harrison — third-round pick, No. 75 overall:

Coming off his first sack of the season in Week 15, Zach Harrison is looking for more. The defensive end has played a little less than one third of the defensive snaps through Atlanta's 14 games, with the Falcons rotations at the line.

"He's a very consistent person," head coach Arthur Smith said. "I mean that in the highest compliment. It's paid off."

Along with his first sack, Harrison has recorded two quarterback hits, two tackles for loss and 26 tackles.

While Harrison has noticed growth while reflecting on the season, he's nowhere near where he hopes to get.

"I feel like I still got a long way to go," Harrison said.

Clark Phillips III — fourth-round pick, No. 113 overall

In Clark Phillips III's first four appearances as a Falcon, he played most of his snaps on special teams. But he has gotten extended defensive playing time in the last few games.

Phillips started the last two weeks after he stepped in for injured starting cornerback A.J. Terrell in Week 13 and Jeff Okudah in the following game. In four total games, Phillips recorded three pass breakups and a tackle for a loss.

While the rookie defensive back has shown significant strides the Falcons defensive staff knows he can get better. Defensive Ryan Nielsen said Phillips didn't play his best game in Week 15 against the Panthers. On a game-losing drive, Phillips committed a defensive-holding penalty and was subsequently subbed out. Still, Nielsen and company have liked what they've seen from the Utah product.

"Don't let the overall performance get lost in those couple of plays because his whole body of work has been very solid," Nielsen said. "I am excited about the future of this guy. It's very bright."

DeMarcco Hellams — seventh-round pick, No. 224 overall

In training camp, DeMarcco Hellams was just trying to make the Falcons roster. Now, he has started the last two games at safety for Atlanta. In 13 appearances, Hellams has registered 27 tackles and a quarterback hit.

The Falcons defensive staff took note of Hellams' impressive preseason, where he made impactful plays, including interceptions in back-to-back games. Hellams then fought an uphill battle getting on the field early in the year but, after Atlanta waived Jaylinn Hawkins, Hellams found a space exchanging meaningful snaps with starter Richie Grant.

"He learned the defense and then just stayed patient but pushed himself to learn everything even though he's a good mental-rep guy," Nielsen said. "He's watching, he's learning, and then all of a sudden – very similar – he got his opportunity and went out and made a play."

Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in the work in Flowery Branch for the game against the Indianapolis Colts, presented by Fast Twitch by Gatorade.

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