The Falcons have been busy. One of the few lucky teams absolutely loaded with cap space spent like that money would evaporate if they didn’t, bringing in a raft of new free agents to try to improve a roster that has gone 7-10 in back-to-back years. All that work already looks pretty good on paper, and now the 2023 NFL Draft is only weeks away.
With that in mind and with a shift to a new month, this is a fine time to take stock of where the roster stands today, what the team’s relative strengths are, and what weaknesses and question marks remain. Get your Monday morning started with this snapshot.
Atlanta currently has 76 players under contract, with 35 players on offense, 38 on defense, and three special teams specialists. They’re also down under $10 million in cap space.
Factoring in the Calais Campbell signing and the upcoming draft class, #Falcons currently have ~$9.24M in salary cap space remaining.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 2, 2023
Still could see a few small signings come in before the draft, but Atlanta is probably done with the big money deals.
With eight selections in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft and the 90 man roster limit just 14 players away, Atlanta’s probably not adding much else in between now and the end of the month. The team may not use all eight of those picks—they have yet to make a seventh rounder in the Terry Fontenot era—but they’ll want to add some undrafted free agents they’re interested in and make post-April roster pickups to address any other holes. Aside from a couple of veteran depth signings, I’d be surprised if we saw any real action before the NFL Draft.
If you want to scroll through the whole thing, our tracker’s always available and frequently updated. For today, let’s just focus on a few position groups.
Kyle Pitts may be coming back from injury and coming off a down season, but he’s a dangerous weapon and he’ll remind us of that again in 2023. Jonnu Smith had success with Arthur Smith in the not-too-distant past and should offer plenty as a receiving option and decent blocker, while Parker Hesse just blocks well and will get a ton of run. Add in second year blocker John FitzPatrick, maybe-he’ll-impress-someday lottery ticket Feleipe Franks, and interesting young projects in Tucker Fisk and John Raine and this is a good group that has the potential to be special.
Believe me, it was odd for me to type this.
After adding Calais Campbell, David Onyemata, Eddie Goldman, and roster hopeful Joe Gaziano to a group that already included the great Grady Jarrett and rising third-year pro Ta’Quon Graham, the Falcons have a line that’s far deeper and more talented than the one they were trotting out at the end of last year, one with a looming tough decision or two around keeping Gaziano, Timothy Horne, and Jalen Dalton. Even if they don’t add to this group in April—and I suspect they will—the Falcons suddenly look like they’ll be much tougher to deal with come September.
Broad category here, but the Falcons have talent and depth at cornerback and safety. The addition of Jessie Bates gives the team a high-end starter to pair with Richie Grant, while A.J. Terrell is a standout top cornerback and Casey Hayward a capable starter. Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, and plenty of others can compete for the nickel role, and the Falcons have a ton of options at cornerback who are young and interesting duking it out for reserve spots. Add in Jaylinn Hawkins settling in as the third safety after proving to be a solid starter with some big moments as a ballhawk and you have the makings of a pretty good secondary, one that should complement a rebuilt defensive line effectively.
Drake London did well last year and was a favorite target for Desmond Ridder, so that duo ought to have plenty of success in 2023. Mack Hollins is a solid starter with terrific blocking skills and Scotty Miller adds speed to the group, while players like Frank Darby and Jared Bernhardt might turn into something.
That’s still one of the weakest wide receiver groups in the NFL, obviously, with only London figuring to be a high-end starter. Atlanta needs to add at least one more compelling piece here—I know how much they like to run the ball and how heavily they lean on their tight ends, but being an injury away from starting unproven players is not a great idea—and then they can probably make this thing work for 2023.
Matt Hennessy showed flashes of being a solid option at left guard in 2023, but unfortunately was injured. Jalen Mayfield is a player the organization still seems to believe in, but missed all of last year with an injury after a rough rookie season. Justin Shaffer looks like he can be a stellar run blocker in the pros but there are questions about his pass protection abilities, and he spent last year on the practice squad. Kyle Hinton is an upside addition who hasn’t had a chance to prove himself in the NFL.
Today, that would be your group pushing for a starting job at left guard. The hope would be that the winner would be a solid enough starter to make things work on a pretty good line, but it could just as easily be a real trouble spot if none of those players impress. This feels like a good landing spot for an early draft pick or a reliable veteran.
We just don’t know how good Desmond Ridder’s going to be, though the Falcons obviously believe in him. Taylor Heinicke is a fine backup who can fill in in a pinch, Logan Woodside will be a solid practice squad player if he’s kept, and Feleipe Franks is an emergency option with a cannon arm, at least. It all depends on Ridder, but it’s a question mark until we see him in action and find out just how good he can be as this team’s full-time 2023 starter. The floor should, as I wrote yesterday, solid.
There’s intriguing talent here. Kaden Elliss proved to be a capable pass rusher from the middle of the Saints defense and should log plenty of time next to Troy Andersen, who could be special if he grows and refines his game in 2023 and beyond. Mykal Walker remains a player I think can provide you with quality snaps even if the results were inconsistent in 2022, and the team has some special teams depth with Dorian Etheridge and Tae Davis.
You could probably use one more player here to really feel good about the group, especially if Elliss is going to move around in Ryan Nielsen’s defense, and the Falcons remain linked to 2022 starter Rashaan Evans. It’s a question mark because there are unknowns—will Elliss repeat his 2022? Will Andersen take a step forward? Can Walker rebound—but at least there’s talent here.
Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone are going to be counted upon to take major steps forward, regardless of what the Falcons ultimately add here. Right now, it’s two second-year players, a solid all-around outside linebacker in Lorenzo Carter, a player still trying to find his footing in Ade Ogundeji, and some youngish, decent depth options. The Falcons lack a proven high-end pass rusher and more than one player with the potential to be a high-caliber option at the moment, and without knowing how good Ebiketie and Malone might be, this group is a question mark bordering on a weakness. We should see some Elliss here, which should help.
As I wrote above, there’s not all that much for the Falcons to do between now and the end of April. I’m concerned with the state of their edge rusher group—they could really use a proven player there—and the left guard competition as it stands today could use another man in the mix. Beyond that, any veteran signings that give them additional options at safety, inside linebacker, left guard, swing tackle, running back, and wide receiver, among others, would certainly be welcome.
The bulk of the free agency work appears to be over, however, which means we can embrace the draft with all our might. A strong class there will put the Falcons in an excellent position in the NFC South for the 2023 season, given the quality of their free agent haul, and it’s hard not to feel optimistic about what’s ahead.