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Falcons rookie report: A fine day for first-year players

Every active rookie contributes during a loss to the Titans.

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The Falcons’ rookie class had a pretty good day on Sunday, even if the Falcons didn’t. Their star rookie running back scored his first NFL touchdown and had a tidy day on the ground, their starting left guard turned in one of his better efforts of the season, and their rookie defenders were contributors. Considering you only have four active rookies from this class, having all of them playing real roles is important, and seeing some growth is even more important.

Let’s look at how they fared last Sunday.

RB Bijan Robinson: Effective on ground, goose egg through air

The good news: Robinson was back to a full workload after Week 7’s 11 headached-limited snaps, and he was effective in his limited carries. Toting the rock just 11 times, Bijan reeled off a 25 yard carry and scored his first NFL rushing touchdown, finishing with 62 yards in total. You would have liked to see more of him, but the Falcons were throwing a lot to try to catch up.

The air piece of his day was less inspiring. Robinson was targeted five times and didn’t reel in a single catch, with most of that on the quarterback but the young back missing a couple of difficult opportunities along the way. That part of his game is rock solid—just two weeks ago he had five catches for 43 yards—but this was a silent day for him as a pass catcher.

Overall, Robinson has 655 combined yards and three combined touchdowns on the year, a very fine season that nonetheless feels like it’s far less than he’s capable of contributing.

G Matthew Bergeron: Allows a sack, fares better in run blocking

Bergeron is starting to showing signs of becoming the caliber of run blocking guard the Falcons thought he could be when he was drafted, which is excellent. This was another day of growth in that regard for him, and he’s only going to get better with time.

Pass protection is the question mark, and it was not quite as smooth there for Bergeron. Per Pro Football Focus, he was “credited” with three pressures, two hurries, and a sack working against Tennessee’s potent interior on a very bad day at the office for the offensive line in pass protection. Bergeron has allowed just two sacks thus far in 2023, but he’s tied for the 12th-most pressures among guards thus far this year, and clearly has a ways to go to be a true asset in that regard.

DE Zach Harrison: Does well with career-high snaps

For the second straight week, Harrison saw over 20 snaps, and he had arguably his finest game as a pro in this one.

For the second straight week, Harrison was credit with a hurry, but he also picked up a run stop and three tackles, two of them solo. That’s not production that pops off the page, but Harrison has been a pretty solid contributor to the team’s run defense and has only recently started to generate pressure. There’s upside here, and if Harrison can realize some of it this season, it’ll help a Falcons defense that needs more solid contributors up front with Grady Jarrett out.

CB Clark Phillips: Inactive

Nothing new here.

S DeMarcco Hellams: Limited snaps as third safety, core special teams role

Hellams is going to get less than a dozen snaps on defense, where he has been solid in his opportunities, and get a ton of run on special teams, where he’s a fixture for Atlanta. The team being high enough on the 2023 seventh rounder to have him in that kind of role in his rookie season genuinely bodes well for his future, but it’s unlikely to translate into any huge games in the immediate future.

G Jovaughn Gwyn: Inactive

Nothing new here, either.