After the NFL Draft, the Falcons appear to be entering 2023 without any of the major holes they had in 2022. That is going to come with some major qualifiers, but let’s get to it. It should be noted in advance that the Falcons acquired Jeff Okudah and Jonnu Smith by trading a fifth and a seventh pick in the draft respectively. We’ll leave it to other outlets to debate whether or not those picks should be considered as draft picks.
Round 1 | Pick 8: Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
For a while, we’ve been expecting the Falcons to take Bijan at #8 and for a long time, we haven’t been sure why. But let’s be fair to Bijan and the Falcons first. Bijan Robinson is an explosive running back with speed, power and good hands. He’s expected to lineup all over the field for the Falcons but don’t let that make you think he’s therefore a scat back. A physical specimen with great hands, Bijan can contribute on any down in the NFL. Furthermore, while his size and power is what scouts are talking about the most, I think what will stand out about the running back are his feet. He absorbs contact, keeps his balance and knows when and how to hit the hole. Not just a day-one starter, but should be a day one star. Bijan should be the focal point on an offense that focuses on the ground game. Ok, so why the hate on the pick?
Claims that they were trying to trade back seem not to make a great deal of sense as the Eagles immediately traded a 4th round pick to the Bears (who needed an offensive tackle) for the 9 pick to take Jalen Carter. Since we knew that the Bears were going to take a tackle at 9 (and they did), it seems curious that the Falcons chose not to trade back to 10, pickup a fourth-rounder, save money and still get Bijan.
People saying the “hate on running backs has gone too far” may well be right but seem to be talking past the arguments for why one team ought not make this pick. The rookie pay scale determines how much a player should make by where they were selected in the draft. Drafting a running back in the top ten guarantees they will be paid as one of the top backs in the league. Drafting a running back in the late rounds (such as the Falcons did successfully last year) gives teams a chance to add a quality player at minimum cost. Furthermore the #8 pick allowed the Falcons to acquire a potential star player at a high-demand position in defensive tackle Jalen Carter.
The average career span of an NFL player is three years with running backs among the shortest in that time frame. Bijan has a lot of wear and tear on his legs already after three big years for the Longhorns. Meanwhile the Falcons are going to give Ridder the starting job at QB in 2023. Bijan is a win now pick. Is that really how the Falcon’s should be drafting?
Round 2, Pick 38: Matthew Bergeron, OT, Syracuse
A pick that will likely scare Falcons fans because who is being brought in to replace, Bergeron will presumably make the switch to guard (like Jalen Mayfield) in a hope to solidify the Falcons offensive line. While Falcons fans may be frustrated that they traded up for a player that would almost certainly be there, it makes sense why they did it. The two starting NFL guards Avila and Torrence were off the board and the Falcons had to come out of this draft with a player who could be a viable option at guard immediately. If, IF, Bergeron can be a solid guard, then the Falcons are in business and would retroactively make the Bijan pick understandable.
Round 3 | Pick 75 Zach Harrison, EDGE, Ohio State
I’m intrigued if Zach Harrison can grow to be an effective defensive end instead of a pass-rushing outside linebacker. Right now ESPN.com has Harrison listed as a strong-side linebacker which would mean the Falcons have four strong-side linebackers (Ebiketie, Harrison, Lorenzo Carter and DeAngelo Malone). Having said that, Harrison has the only frame on the roster that projects as a potential long term replacement of Calais Campbell at the extremely important position.
Round 4, Pick 113 (from TEN): Clark Philips III, CB, Utah
It’s a solid pick. Phillips was an all American at Utah and saw his stock fall after a poor combine performance. A 4.51 40 for a cornerback with a 4.32 20 yard split is pretty brutal for the position. Having said that is 10-yard split was well above average and Phillips should play underneath where he can use his quickness to cover underneath routes. This pick presumably means the Falcons will roll with Terrell and Okudah lining up 1 and 2 on the outside. With much-improved safety help with the Falcons bringing in Bates from Cincy, this should be a very good positional group in 2023.
Round 7, Pick 224: DeMarcco Hellams, S, Alabama
General Manager Terry Fontenot once said “he wouldn’t bring in any player that didn’t have a path to making the team.” I always thought that was a curious thing to say as it wouldn’t make any sense if it were reversed. Nevertheless, the path here seems tough. With the signing of Jessie Bates III the Falcons have three safeties that will make the team (Bates, Hawkins, and Grant). Not counting plenty of candidates for the nickel corner job. I’m not sure how many safeties they believe they need for this Multi-D defense.
Round 7, Pick 225 (from LV): Jovaughn Gwyn, G, South Carolina
At 6’2″ 297 Jovaughn Gwyn is tiny for a guard in this NFL. But a hard-working run blocker with solid feet and great technique, Gwyn could be a solid backup in the NFL. I like this pick because if Arthur Smith has shown anything as a head coach, it’s his ability to get a lot out of his offensive line both by scheme and coaching. For that reason, taking longshot offensive linemen late in the draft offers good value. Should Gwyn make the team as a guard (or center), he’ll provide a very cheap backup for the next 4 years.