Draft grades often do not tell the tale of a team’s draft class, to put it mildly. Grading teams for the players they drafted before they ever hit the field, based on consensus notions of where they should be drafted and likely heavily biased personal feelings on prospects and team needs, tends to not be overly predictive.
That said, it’s useful at this moment for a sense of how analysts are feeling about the Falcons’ draft haul in 2023 and what concerns or praise they have for the Falcons’ picks, so we can look back some day and either crow or nod sadly. Trey Wingo has it right, though, on their value as far as future projections go.
Here’s the thing to remember about draft grades immediately after the draft is over: they’re pointless except for creating content for a rabid NFL fan base. It takes a minimum of 3 years to grade a draft when you see… how the players actually play. Until then it’s just fodder— trey wingo (@wingoz) April 30, 2023
As you’d expect, the team made just six picks after making several trades and went with a running back in the top ten, so as you’d expect the grades pouring in on Sunday are mixed. There are those who applaud the team for zagging when others zig in pursuit of building a dominant offense and filling critical needs with high-upside players, and there are those who don’t think the Falcons hit the right needs with the right players, especially at (where else?) quarterback.
Here’s a quick roundup of grades from across the NFL landscape. If you see ones I missed, let me know, and then weigh in with a snap grade of your own.
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A-
Analysis: The multi-faceted Robinson was the best value available for a team trying to build an elite offense. Trading up for Bergeron made sense because of his guard/tackle versatility and Harrison fits as a long, strong base end.
Phillips is small but tenacious; he’ll flourish in the slot for the Falcons from Day 1. They picked up a downhill safety in Hellams and short but ferocious center/guard in Gwyn. Signing free agent receivers should be a priority for Atlanta after the draft.
Danny Kelly, The Ringer: C+
The Falcons certainly kept true to their identity in this draft, using the eighth pick on Texas running back Bijan Robinson. There’s a massive amount of potential opportunity cost with taking a running back that early, and I have to dock them for that—but Robinson is one of the best creators on the ground that we’ve seen out of a running back prospect in the last decade, so he could help to take the load of carrying the offense off of second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder’s shoulders. The Falcons’ second-round pick, Syracuse offensive lineman Matthew Bergeron, brings smashmouth style in the run game that should be a boost to Atlanta’s run game as well. And Ohio State third-rounder Zach Harrison—a souped up edge rusher with rare length—gives the team another rotational piece on the defensive line. Add in fourth-round cornerback Clark Phillips III on day three, and Atlanta added some good players.
Evan Silva, Establish the Run: C+
Overview: CB Jeff Okudah is included in this haul after Atlanta acquired him from Detroit for a fifth-round pick. While I love Robinson the player, he was an obvious reach by GM Terry Fontenot. Even more than last year, the Falcons are going to run the crap out of the ball. Bergeron was a powerful left tackle at Syracuse who will kick to guard. The Falcons sent a fourth-round pick to the Colts to jump from No. 44 to 38 for Bergeron. A massive high school recruit, Harrison looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane. Phillips is a quality slot-corner prospect and came at good value. The Falcons didn’t have their original fifth-round pick after wasting it in a trade for sluggish non-contributor WR Bryan Edwards. Atlanta ignored position value at No. 8, arguably paid too much to move up in Round 2, and remain curiously committed to Desmond Ridder and Taylor Heinicke under center. They seem destined for QB purgatory for a while.
Ian Cummings, Pro Football Network
Bijan Robinson: B+
Matthew Bergeron: B+
Zach Harrison: A-
Clark Phillips III: A+
DeMarcco Hellams: C+
Jovaughn Gwyn: B+
Pro Football Focus: B+
Teams wouldn’t usually receive an “average” grade for taking a running back in the top 10, but it’s hard to dislike this pick too much, given how good Bijan Robinson was in 2022. An impressive athlete at 220 pounds, he set a PFF college record with 104 missed tackles forced in 2022, producing a 95.3 PFF grade in the process.
Gilberto Manzano, Sports Illustrated: B
Analysis: The Falcons ignored analytics and viewed Robinson as an offensive weapon instead of just a running back. Robinson could be a security blanket for second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder and will add to coach Arthur Smith’s powerful rushing attack. Suddenly, Atlanta has one of the best offensive trios in the league with Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Atlanta got a little greedy by drafting an offensive lineman instead of a defensive player for the second pick, but Bergeron is a rugged run blocker and fits the offensive scheme. Harrison will be needed to contribute immediately because the Falcons struggled with generating a pass rush last season.
Danel Flick, Sports Illustrated
Bijan Robinson: A-
Matthew Bergeron: B+
Zach Harrrison: B-
Clark Phillips: A-
DeMarcco Hellams: B
Jovaughn Gwyn: C+
Nate Davis, USA Today: C-
If you subscribe to drafting by the “best player available” theory, then it’s hard to quibble with first-round RB Bijan Robinson, who should be a true game breaker, and second-round OL Matthew Bergeron ... so there’s that. But is this team really going to coalesce into a legit Super Bowl contender before a good chunk of Robinson’s tread is worn off? And Bergeron seems a luxury given the strength of the offensive line relative to holes elsewhere – to say nothing of the mystery that is QB Desmond Ridder.
Thor Nystrom, FantasyPros: C+
The pick I loved of Atlanta’s class was CB Clark Phillips in Round 4. Phillips is relegated to the slot in the NFL, but he’s gonna be a good one. A unanimous All-American in 2022 and the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Phillips will take care of any matchup in which he can’t be physically trump-carded.
Nick Simon, DraftKings Nation: C-
Ok, listen Bijan Robinson is going to monster in the NFL. I’m not here to dispute his selection as a top 10 pick. But for the Falcons specifically, they needed help across the defensive line and Jalen Carter was staring them right in the face. They then chose to wait until the third round to address their pass rush, but chose a prospect in Harrison that fell short of being the next dominant defensive end at Ohio State. I will credit them for taking a DUDE with Phillips in round four, but it felt like they didn’t properly address their needs in this draft. — NS