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Bair: Talent upgrades, depth should help Falcons compete for NFC South title

There's no arguing that the Falcons are better than previous seasons. But, by how much?

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Falcons dropped their roster to 53-men at the mandated time on Tuesday afternoon, it will continue morph as we move through the summer and fall. Check Terry Fontenot's track record for proof of that. The Falcons are constantly churning the bottom section of the roster looking for proper fits.

That's why you'll see the word "initial" in front of our 53-man content.

Got that? Good. Public service announcement over.

This isn't a story about that process. It's about the top of the roster and how it can help the Falcons make a realistic push to win the NFC South.

This group is far more talented than in recent seasons, obviously because it was assembled without significant salary-cap constraints. Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith imported some real defensive talent in free agency, invested heavily to keep the offensive line together and added more versatile skill players who can move around the formation in search of mismatches.

We can all agree that the Falcons are better. While that's an advancement, it's not the answer we really need. Can this roster compete in a wide-open NFC South? Winning the division is paramount in this quest to end a prolonged playoff drought. How do they stack up in a division with the No. 1 overall pick in Carolina, established veterans in a Tom-Brady-less Tampa Bay and Derek Carr now in New Orleans.

There's potential to come out on top of that group. So much of it revolves around Desmond Ridder's performance at quarterback. They'll need vastly improved defensive production, and I'm talking about game-changing plays like sacks and takeaways and steady victories on critical downs.

Bijan Robinson and Calais Campbell and Jessie Bates III will play major roles in this title question, and star power must lead the charge at times. This roster's depth, however, will play an essential role in this 2023 effort and, when looking at upgrades on this roster, depth is a massive one.

Last year, the Falcons couldn't survive an injury plague at a certain position. When the Falcons lost Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell in consecutive games, Atlanta couldn't maintain solid coverage. Look what we've seen this summer at the same position. Jeff Okudah went down in camp. The Falcons had Tre Flowers, with 41 starts to his credit, ready to step in. Mike Hughes has been dealing with some injury issues, but the Falcons have looked good with Dee Alford in the slot and competent cornerbacks behind him. Does Flowers have as much raw talent as Okudah? Probably not, but he can maintain a solid level of play until the starter returns.

There are some areas where an upgrade could help this group out – swing tackle immediately comes to mind – there's injury protection at most every spot. That will help a veteran defensive line keep guys fresh.

Every game is important in the grand scheme, but winning division games is essential. They were 2-4 in the NFC South, though a win over Tampa Bay came in a Week 18 contest after the Bucs had the division locked up.

How the Falcons fare in those moments will be key. They have to perform better in close contests. They lost nine one-score games, though having veterans from winning programs on the roster now who know how to handle those situations.

It's better equipped to handle adversity, both in games and between them, which should help keep the Falcons in it as the season wears on. The Falcons are better and should be more competitive, but we still don't know exactly how much. We'll find out over the course of a season that will be intriguing as heck to watch play out.

We take a look at the players on the current 53-man roster for the 2023 Atlanta Falcons, sponsored by Veepio.

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