FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Falcons defense will look at lot different in 2023. There's a change at coordinator, with Ryan Nielsen assuming that role following Dean Pees' retirement. The depth chart got remade in free agency, especially, with bigger-name additions at every level. Calais Campbell. Jessie Bates III. David Onyemata. Kaden Elliss. Jeff Okudah. Mike Hughes.
All of those guys will make a significant impact. Which one makes the biggest? That's what Tori McElhaney and I will ponder in this Question of the Week, which comes as OTAs continue.
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No conclusions will be drawn from open practices alone, but it will be fascinating to see how these guys merge into the new system. That won't stop us from making some bold predictions about which player will stand out the most, though. This topic is ripe for debate, considering that Tori and I may be measuring "impact" with different standards.
So, again, which new defender will make the biggest impact in 2023? Let's waste no time and get right to that topic.
Tori: I feel like I have to say David Onyemata, which I realize could be a hot take for some considering Jessie Bates III is in the secondary and Calais Campbell is coming off the edge. I can't help it. I'm just so looking forward to seeing what Onyemata can do alongside Grady Jarrett.
For years I feel like we've been talking about getting Jarrett help along the defensive interior. Well, the Falcons were finally in the position to do so this offseason and they went out and got someone who 1) has the right experience to be impactful on his own, and 2) has a history with Nielsen that will come in handy early in 2023.
Too often Jarrett has been double teamed (even triple teamed) because that's the only way to keep him out of a quarterback's hair. That pressure on Jarrett immediately shifts when you add Onyemata to the defensive front. You can't put that many blockers on Jarrett any longer, not when Onyemata is beside him. Of course, continue to add the fact that you have Campbell and Bud Dupree and Lorenzo Carter and Arnold Ebiketie coming off the edge, too, and you really have to pick and choose your battles with Jarrett. But simply adding Onyemata does a lot for Jarrett, too.
It's this impact that I think we will actively see within the first few series that Jarrett and Onyemata find themselves together for. If pressure is taken off of Jarrett because of Onyemata's presence, that's an impact that I won't be able to miss.
Scott: I went back and forth on this one and nearly went with Calais Campbell. The veteran defensive lineman is going to bring tremendous leadership to his position group, especially, and I think he's still got something left after all those years. He has the ability to change games and a track record of doing that.
Ultimately, though, I went with Jessie Bates because I think he's an excellent player in his own right who will make those around him better.
Go back and watch him play with the Bengals over the last two years, especially. The dude is everywhere on the field. He can work downhill and generate pressure or add solid run defense. When he's playing back, Bates can cover up mistakes made in coverage. And, if an errant throw is lofted in Bates' direction, the guy has a good chance to pick it off.
Bates also has solid command and communication on the back end, which should help the Falcons be a unified force in coverage. This is a guy who provides a massive upgrade in the back, and while he might work from deeper portions of the field, he'll have an impact on every level of the Falcons defense whether it shows up in the stat sheet or not.
Take a look at the 2023 Atlanta Falcons in action during OTA practice.