The 2023 Falcons rookie class is still a work-in-progress. This past week against Minnesota, a couple of players missed the game owing to injury or simply being inactive, one was limited to special teams, and the three who remained active and played all had their ups-and-downs.
Until the Falcons unlock Bijan Robinson’s full potential, get Matthew Bergeron playing at a steady high level, and increase the size of Zach Harrison’s weekly role, this is going to be the story of this draft class. For the long term, every single one of the six players Atlanta selected may well have a significant gameday role, and Robinson and Bergeron have the potential to be great players for years to come. In the here and now, expect growing pains, because we’re going to continue to get them.
RB Bijan Robinson: Lost fumble mars efficient day on the ground.
A tidy 51 yards on 11 carries for Robinson, plus two catches for eight yards on four targets. If that doesn’t set your heart aflame, well, at least the rushing statistics are efficient.
Unfortunately for Robinson, he also fumbled and lost the ball, his second costly fumble of the 2023 season. Debates about Robinson’s usage have been raging all week—Arthur Smith sort of responded to them this week in remarks to the press—but it’s extremely evident that the Falcons aren’t getting as much as they could out of their gifted young back. Perhaps that changes starting this week, with a chastened Smith and company going back to the basics and simply giving Robinson more carries; perhaps this is a season-long frustration.
At the end of the day, Robinson will still be pretty damn good.
G Matthew Bergeron: Quality day in pass protection, shakier day run blocking
Bergeron grabbed one of the highest Pro Football Focus grades of any guard this past Sunday in terms of pass protection, and it showed up on a day where he did a nice job against Minnesota’s defensive interior. That combined with a decent day elsewhere and Taylor Heinicke’s ability to escape pressure led to some good things for the offense, albeit not enough.
Bergeron’s run blocking was shakier, though, with some of the team’s least productive runs going in his direction. It’s an up-and-down, side-to-side kind of rookie season for the left guard, who will be pretty damn good himself with time and patience. He just has to keep working at it, and he’ll keep getting his opportunities to.
DE Zach Harrison: Contributes to Atlanta’s strong run defense
Harrison has been getting fairly steady snaps in recent weeks, with the occasional small glimpse of his pass rushing ability. The bigger win has been his run defense, and that continued against Minnesota.
While Josh Dobbs certainly embarrassed this defense, especially with his legs, Alexander Mattison and Cam Akers got absolutely nowhere throughout most of the day. Harrison helped out there, getting a pair of stops and looking like a player who has a bright future in this league with his stoutness against the run. The Falcons drafted him to do more than that—they’re hoping that with refinement, he can be a consistent pass rushing presence—but it’s a good start.
CB Clark Phillips: Special teams role
Phillips played for the first time in close to a month, and got a career-high number of snaps on special teams without playing on defense. That’s going to be the way the team eases him into a gameday role, so seeing him active at all is a good thing.
Next time out, we’d like to see him on defense, especially if Dee Alford has to miss time against Arizona. Phillips simply has more upside and may be a more useful player in the here and now than Mike Hughes.
S DeMarcco Hellams: Out with an injury
We may not see Hellams again this week after he missed the Vikings game with an injury, leading to a larger role for Micah Abernathy. Hellams is a young player on the rise in this defense, and the team is going to miss his physicality and special teams value if he can’t go against Arizona. If he misses this one, the Falcons’ third safety should be back after the bye.
G Jovaughn Gwyn: Inactive
Weekly inactive, probably for the rest of the season. You know the drill.