Finding Falcons is a series dedicated to telling the stories of not just the fact that the Falcons decided to draft a specific player, but rather the why behind doing so. Based on exclusive interviews with Falcons position coaches, area scouts and the decision-makers at the top, the Falcons brass details the moments that solidified the decision to draft each of the men who make up their 2023 draft class. For six consecutive weeks, we'll tell those stories.
Up first was the No. 8 overall pick, Bijan Robinson. This week we dive into the story behind the Falcons decision to move back up into the second round for a particular offensive lineman, Matthew Bergeron.
By: Tori McElhaney
When the Falcons got to the second round of the 2023 NFL Draft, a dash of anxiety started to creep in. As Atlanta sat with the No. 44 overall pick, they had a stack of about eight players they were holding out hope would be there as the picks of the second round came and went. But as names came off the board, the nervous energy intensified, because they didn't want that top name snatched away.
Finally, the Falcons felt they couldn't wait any longer.
"When you have conviction and you feel really good about someone, which we did, we said, 'Let's go up and get him,'" Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said.
You can prep and you can plan, but once the draft begins, "sometimes you need a little luck," too, Fontenot said. The Falcons didn't want to wait on luck, so they traded up to get the player they wanted, but not just the player they wanted but the player they felt fit them the most. So, as it was, the Falcons traded away their No. 44 and No. 110 overall picks to take Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron at No. 38 overall.
They did so because, to a certain extent, Bergeron and the Falcons decision-makers are kindred spirits. From the beginning, he exhibited what they value most.
If you've been listening to anything Arthur Smith has said since he took over as head coach of the Falcons two years ago, hear this: He doesn't want players he has to push forward. He wants players he has to reel back in.
Technique can be taught. Temperament can't.
"We like the intent that he plays with," Smith said of Bergeron. "I do like guys that are going to go, and you might have to pull them back, may have to clean up some techniques, but that guy is trying to put somebody into the sideline. I'll deal with that. It's the guys you have to push to go harder that's a problem. It's a problem for Terry and I."
It's not an issue the Falcons ever saw in Bergeron. If anything, through conversations with various corners of the Falcons organization, Falcons decision-makers seemed as connected as ever on their thoughts surrounding Bergeron. And yes, that word, "temperament," kept coming up.
It came up with Kyle Smith, the Falcons VP of player personnel: "The things that stuck out with Bergeron were initial quickness, lateral quickness, his twitch in a short area. But he plays with violence. He plays with physicality. He plays with the temperament that we want."
Falcons national scout Tokunbo Abanikanda, yep, he used it, too: "He definitely fits the mold in terms of attitude, temperament. We believe in that kind of kid, and we know that kind of kid can change our offensive line room and change our offense when bringing those type of kids in."
And though Bergeron's new position coach, Dwayne Ledford, didn't use the exact word, the sentiments remained strikingly similar: "That wow-factor? It was immediately there... There's a certain style and way we want to play up front and I think he exhibited that. As soon as we turning on (his college tape) we started seeing that."
That's the thing, too, it didn't take very long to actively see that Bergeron played with the intent, the temperament, the style of which the Falcons covet in their linemen.
"He plays beyond the whistle," Abanikanda said of what initially stuck out to him about Bergeron. "There is no whistle because the whistle doesn't play with Matthew. This is a guy who want to finish guys. He wants to finish guys in the dirt."
More so, Abanikanda said this is a player who's had to play this way to garner respect from the jump.
To know Bergeron's story is to appreciate it: A kid from Canada with no offers to play football, the sport he cared most about. Bergeron went to a camp at Syracuse and committed. A commitment he held true to throughout his college career, something Arthur Smith felt compelled to note after the Falcons drafted him.
Abanikanda added this is a player who came up from the bottom. There's a certain sense of "self-made-ness" about him that the Falcons appreciate.
"Everything he got," Abanikanda said, "he earned."
It's also obvious Bergeron would rather be on the football field than anywhere else. That's something Ledford said he could tell right away when the two chatted at Bergeron's pro day.
Standing in front of him was a kid who just wanted to get back to the field, Ledford said. The Falcons offensive line coach felt that energy so strongly that even he was compelled to reassure Bergeron that the draft process would be over soon. It's a conversation that stuck in Bergeron's mind all the way to the day the Falcons ultimately drafted him.
"You're going to be able to get back to football soon, and get back on the field," Ledford remembers telling Bergeron at Syracuse in the spring. "... He just wanted to go get back on the football field so he could put the pads back on and be back out there with the other four guys. You felt that from him. He had that energy and that presence to him."
The Falcons' plan for Bergeron is to move him inside to guard. He played tackle exclusively at Syracuse, but they need a left guard and depending on how quickly and effectively Bergeron can make the move inside will depend on if he's fighting for a starting spot in his rookie year.
Regardless, though, the Falcons are quite pleased with the player and person they were able to move up into the second round of the draft to get. As it would seem, twin flames found each other in Bergeron and the Falcons.
"We're just getting nastier. We're getting bigger. We're getting more physical. We're getting more finish and we're getting more drive," Abanikanda concluded. "And this guy slides right in."
Take a look at the Atlanta Falcons rookies in action during the 2023 rookie minicamp.