POWDER SPRINGS, Ga — The Falcons have been a big spender this off-season, through re-signings and free agent acquisitions. A good deal of us saw the Bates move coming, following the December get together of He, Pitts, Terrell & Hayward. Combine Bates with a few former Saints in David Onyemata and Kaden Elliss, and we see big improvement at each level of the defense. Not to mention the acquisitions of Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, and Calais Campbell.
The biggest splash signing is the acquisition of Jessie Bates. A former All-Pro safety with the Cincinnati Bengals, Bates will bring championship pedigree to a young defense. With an 84.8 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus, Bates’ prescience will be more than appreciated in the league’s 10th worst rushing defense last year. Bates totaled 50 tackles, 4 INTS & 4 PBUs in 2022. Bates has been a favorite of mine, and I’m excited to see what he, Terrell, and the rest of the secondary will look like.
With Nielsen coming over from the Saints, I kept my eye on their free agent class. Onyemata works very well for exactly what the Falcons need up front. A true roadblock in the run game, Onyemata isn’t getting moved out of his gap. Big David totaled 35 QB pressures in 2022, along with 26 stops (offensive failures). Putting a player like this next to Grady improves him as well. No more consistent double teams, allowing him to get after the passer inside.
Kaden Elliss, another former Saint, is the player I’m most excited about. He hasn’t garnered National attention yet, but I strongly believe if placed in the correct places in the Falcons’ defense, we could have a Pro-Bowl caliber player on our hands. Kaden plays with his hair on fire and flies around the field in a manner of controlled chaos. He’s lined up at every LB position and can come off the edge in a Micah Parsons-type role. He’s fluid in coverage and has the acceleration to stick with receivers in space. All-Pro LB and captain of the Saints defense Demario Davis, had this to say about him; "Five-five's probably been, for the last couple of years, the best-kept secret in the NFL, We knew what type of player he was and now he's getting that opportunity and he's showing it to the world. "I don't know if anybody is shocked when they watch it in our building, I'm sure he's shocking a lot of people who didn't know. But just give it time, he's going to be on everybody's radar." Filling in for an injured Pete Waner in week 11, Elliss posted 4 tackles, 2 sacks, and a PBU against the LA Rams. He posted back to back 90.1, & 91.3 Pro Football Focus grades starting at Middle Linebacker, elite play.
Mack Hollins, although about to be 30, should give us an idea of what Arthur Smith was looking for in Bryan Edwards last season. Hollins had a breakout season last year for the Raiders. After never posting more than 20 receptions in a season, he nearly tripled that number in 2022 with 57 catches for 690 yards. I’m very excited to see the plan Arthur Smith has for the #2 receiver opposite Drake London. Smith hasn’t been able to get that position going. Hollins is the big body that he wanted, now with the production to match.
Jonnu Smith is a very underrated acquisition. Smith thrived in Smith’s scheme in 2020, making 41 catches for 448 yards, and a whopping 8 TDs. His slide in play was directly correlated to his exiting Arthur Smith’s offense. Bringing him back into Arthur Smith’s scheme, at still a very prime-ish age of 27, bodes well. Our offense quietly has a lot of good pieces to compete with the entire NFL.
Calais Campbell coming into this young defense is something that has elated me as a fan. His ability to pour his knowledge into all of the young players on the roster, while still being able to contribute at a high level, creates a tremendous return. While he’s on a 1 year contract, the coaching he can provide to our young defense will stick with them throughout their NFL careers. A multiple-time Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, it will be an honor to have a man of his character in Atlanta as well.