FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With rookies reporting for minicamp at the end of this week and mandatory minicamp not too far behind, the Falcons offseason workout programs continue.
Atlanta spent a lot of money in free agency to revamp its defense, as well as add much-needed depth to positions like wide receiver and cornerback. Then, there was the draft, in which the Falcons made a splash with Bijan Robinson at No. 8 overall followed by a move which saw Atlanta jumping up in the second round to grab a tackle-turned-guard in Matthew Bergeron.
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- State of Falcons roster after 2023 NFL Draft
- What's missing on Falcons roster after 2023 NFL Draft?
- Analysis: Why no one should be surprised Falcons took Bijan Robinson at No. 8
- Question of the Week: Which new Falcons are you most excited to see during OTAs and minicamp?
We're at the point in the offseason when the Falcons 90-man roster is looking close to complete. Of course the bottom of the roster could still continue to churn as June 1 cuts come and go and as 53-man cut down in August happen. But for the time being, the roster looks full. So, with this fullness in mind, let's break down the roster into bite-sized pieces, highlighting one burning question for each position group.
This is Part I, where we'll highlight the offensive positions. Part II will drop on Tuesday, when we'll highlight a very different looking defense. Let's dive in.
What should fair expectations be for Desmond Ridder in 2023?
We know Ridder is the starting quarterback for the Falcons in 2023, baring any major changes. He had four starts at the end of the 2022 season, and showed significant progress from his first start to his fourth. From the outside looking in, those four games didn't show much of a reason why Ridder shouldn't be the starter in 2023. Though he only threw two touchdowns in four games, he didn't throw a single interception. Every time Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith or even, recently, Kyle Smith have been asked about Ridder, they've all said the exact same thing: They're excited about the young quarterback.
And though we're a long way from the start of the 2023 preseason, let alone the season itself, I do still wonder what the reasonable expectations should be for Ridder. My most thorough thought is that the Falcons have given him a chance to succeed based on the moves they have made up to this point. They brought back all but one of the initial starting five offensive line from 2022 into 2023. They still have Cordarrelle Patterson and Tyler Allgeier on the roster. They drafted Bijan Robinson. Drake London returns, as does a healthy Kyle Pitts. Other pieces have been added, too: Think Jonnu Smith, Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller. All of these moves should make things easier, not harder, for a quarterback.
The Falcons have given Ridder a cushion in the run game and weapons in the pass game. So, what should early expectations be for a young quarterback? Getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers, often.
What will the running back rotation look like?
For someone who made a career off having one signature back in Derrick Henry at Tennessee, there should be no one as excited about the state of the running back room in Atlanta quite like that of Arthur Smith. One could argue there's no position on the team that has the juice the running back room does. Cordarrelle Patterson is on the last year of his deal with Atlanta. Yes, he's been in the league for a decade at this point, but the resurgence he's experienced in Atlanta is unlike anything any veteran has experienced in this decade of the league. That sounds dramatic but its true, his story is quite unique. Tyler Allgeier went from a fifth-round depth piece in 2022 to one of the most electric rookies - regardless of position - of the last year. Then, there's - of course - Bijan Robinson, someone who many draft analyst said was the best player in the 2023 NFL Draft (also regardless of position). Oh, and how could one forget the player Fontenot and Smith lovingly call, "Duke," a.k.a. Caleb Huntley. He's a depth piece the Falcons really like for his work ethic and skill.
You know what's a good problem to have? The fact that all of these players are available to Smith. As an offensive play caller, he's never been one to shy away from novelty. So, how he uses this interesting group of running backs in both the run game and pass game is set to be a sight to see.
Is there room for another veteran?
I've already written extensively about this topic, but I find the need to bring it up again because I find it's the biggest question I have regarding this position group. One could say this group is full, sure, what with Drake London, Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge and Frank Darby, but I'm not quite there yet. I wrote last week that I'm just not sure there's a clear No. 2 behind London on the depth chart. One could argue there doesn't need to be a true No. 2 because of the way this offense is constructed with Kyle Pitts, Patterson and now Robinson as pass-catching options, but still.
Can the Falcons continue to add to the position? With the way the receiver position is valued monetarily across the league, it wouldn't be a surprise if veteran receivers fall off of cap strapped rosters this summer. The Falcons don't have a ton of money to play with any longer, as they've spent a lot of it, but they likely have enough to make a receiver happy. That is - of course - if its the right receiver.
How will Kyle Pitts' role evolve in 2023?
Pitts burst onto the scene in his rookie year the way anyone would hope a No. 4 overall pick would. But his second year left fantasy team owners (namely) with a pit in their stomach. Pitts' statistics weren't what they were when Matt Ryan was his quarterback, and then he suffers a season-ending knee injury that required surgery. Just two years in and Pitts has been on the roller coaster that is the league. He's been on the mountain top, but now he finds himself working out of the valley. There is good news for Pitts, though, and it has to do with track record.
There was an obvious difference in the way the ball found someone like Drake London when it was Desmond Ridder throwing to him. It should be stated that Ridder and London have quite the relationship. They're good friends and came into Atlanta together. That's not to say Ridder and Pitts don't have a good relationship, but its not one that we've been able to actively see on the field because of Pitts' injury. Pitts and Ridder never shared a field in 2022, which is a shame considering what Ridder's connection with London did for the pass-catcher.
We've seen what Pitts looks like when Ryan was in the pocket. We've seen what he's looked like with Marcus Mariota under center. We haven't seen what the tight end looks like with Ridder in his sights. How will that change the journey that Pitts has already been on in the league? We shall see.
Who will be the Falcons starting left guard?
I have been on the Falcons beat since 2020. This will be my fourth season covering the Falcons. So, consider this the fourth time I've posed this question prior to the start of the season. The Falcons have essentially put a longer termed plan together for their offensive line. They signed Jake Matthews to an extension last year. They did the same thing for Chris Lindstrom this year, while also re-signing Kaleb McGary. Even Drew Dalman has a couple more years on his rookie deal. That's four of the five, so what of the fifth? The jury is still out.
The Falcons are not without their options at left guard. Matt Hennessy should be fighting for the spot come training camp. After Dalman was named the starting center prior to Week 1 of the 2022 season, the Falcons saw fit to move Hennessy to guard. When Elijah Wilkinson was hurt and Hennessy was healthy, he was the next man up at the position. Will he be so in 2023? We don't know yet.
Then, there's the Falcons 2023 second-round pick, Matthew Bergeron. He's played tackle exclusively in college, but the Falcons have a plan to move him inside to guard. They think his skillset will not only transfer but be successful for them. That should mean that he will be a top contender for the starting job in August, too. There's growth to be had for Bergeron at a position he doesn't have a lot of reps at, sure, but you don't move up into the second round to get someone you don't plan to use.
Take a look as the Atlanta Falcons put in that work for the 2023 season.