The 2021 Falcons draft class was—is—polarizing. The 2022 class, meanwhile, was met with excitement and enthusiasm. Through one season, that enthusiasm has mostly been rewarded.
NFL Network recently took a look at each team’s 2022 classes in the NFC South and gave the Falcons a B-, which was tied for the highest grade in the division. That may seem low after a year where the Falcons got some terrific contributions, but this class has so much potential that it feels like they left a lot of meat on the bone.
“Despite running routes for the likes of Marcus Mariota and rookie Desmond Ridder, Drake London thrived in Year 1, catching 72 passes for 866 yards and four touchdowns. He’s penciled in as Atlanta’s top receiver going forward. Arnold Ebiketie had the type of season one might expect from a second-round pick, getting only one start but playing more pass-rushing snaps than the starter in front of him. Though his numbers weren’t gaudy, he put together some solid performances and needs to build on that in the years ahead. The Falcons have a linebacking corps that flies under the radar, but has given reasons to be excited about its future. Troy Andersen’s PFF grade wasn’t great, but he started to find his footing late in his rookie season and finished tied for the third-most hustle stops among all Falcons defenders. (Next Gen Stats defines a hustle stop as a tackle resulting in a successful play for the defense where the player covers 20-plus yards of distance from snap to tackle.)”
There’s a lot more there to read, but it all adds up to a B- mark that matches the Saints for best in the division. That feels like a fair mark even if I think Atlanta’s draft class gave them more than New Orleans got from their own, given that we haven’t seen what this class can do yet.
What do I mean? Take London, who fell off the map for long stretches this season where Marcus Mariota couldn’t or wouldn’t find him, only to surge at the end with Desmond Ridder under center. It’s fair to assume that his second season will be better than his first, given his talent and that long production drought. Ditto Andersen, who really has nowhere to go but up, and both Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone, talented pass rushers who need polish and time to offer more than the occasional spark. Ridder only got four games to show what he could do, and that was understandably a pretty mixed bag. Then consider that we didn’t really get to see Justin Shaffer or John FitzPatrick at all and it’s clear that only Tyler Allgeier really exceeded expectations in 2022.
And that’s where the grade being in the B range starts to make sense. Allgeier was an absolute home run selection in the fifth round, London looks like he should be capable of being the team’s top receiver for years to come, and Ebiketie, Andersen, and Malone all look like legitimate contributors on defense at minimum. If Ridder starts and plays well this year, this class could end up looking like Terry Fontenot’s masterstroke years from now, and it already looks good.
To the extent that it’s fair to grade draft classes after one year—it’s really not, but we’re in an age where snap judgement on players is the norm—this seems like a fair mark. It’s also fair to be very excited about where this class might take the Falcons in 2023, and I’d expect the answer to be new heights.