The 2023 NFL offseason, including free agency and the NFL Draft, are officially in the books. This has been one of the most active offseasons in recent memory for the Atlanta Falcons, who were flush with cap space for the first time in years and who also added six rookies—including two top-40 picks—in the 2023 NFL Draft.
As things settle down heading into the summer, which will feature rookie minicamp and OTAs (offseason training activities), it’s time for my first roster projection of the 2023 season. This is one of my favorite exercises, as we finally get a chance to see what is likely to be a mostly settled version of the 90-man roster and project a potential 53-man roster and depth chart. With so many new faces joining the team, this first edition features a lot of changes from 2022.
My compatriot Dave Choate also took a shot at a roster projection last week, which you can check out here. We definitely disagree in a few areas, so let’s dive right in.
The roster projection is also available in both video and audio format, which you can find embedded below.
Listen to the audio version of this article using the player below, or find it on your favorite podcast platforms.
Italics denote a change from the 2022 roster.
Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to the Tre Flowers signing. He will be included in the next roster projection.
OFFENSE - 25
QB - 2
The Falcons have shuffled their quarterback room, making the surprising decision early in the offseason to hand the keys to 2022 third-rounder Desmond Ridder. I’m confident in his ability to step up and lead the offense better than Marcus Mariota ever did, but he’ll need to prove he can be more than that to keep the job past 2023.
Taylor Heinicke is a fantastic addition at QB2. He’s experienced, fits the scheme very well, and is more than capable of winning games for you if his number is called. Heinicke isn’t a high-upside starter, but he’s competitive and can more than run this offense. He’s considered to be an excellent teammate as well, and should be an ideal mentor to Ridder.
RB - 4
Caleb Huntley is likely to begin training camp on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list.
Atlanta had one of the best running games in the NFL in 2023, and just added Bijan Robinson to the mix. The impact he’s going to bring to this offense is hard to quantify, but I can assure you that it will be significant. The Falcons return Tyler Allgeier, who broke Atlanta’s rookie rushing record in 2022, to work in tandem with Robinson. This could easily be the NFL’s best RB duo in 2023, and both should have major roles.
That does relegate Cordarrelle Patterson to more of a change-of-pace and specialized role, but I think he’ll actually thrive there. It was clear that Patterson simply couldn’t handle a big workload over the last few seasons, despite his best efforts. I think Atlanta will still utilize him in high-leverage situations, and he’ll be the first guy off the bench should injuries strike.
Avery Williams returns as the team’s primary return specialist, and the expectation should be that he continues to grow into his RB role. I don’t expect Williams to be a main part of the gameplan on offense, but he should at least be able to contribute when called upon.
FB - 1
Keith Smith’s blocking and special teams contributions continue to make him the favorite at fullback, but the Falcons have brought in competition for him once again. Converted tight end John Raine and 2022 UDFA Clint Ratkovich join the fray to see if they can earn the job. If Atlanta is trying to make the FB position more of an offensive chess-piece and less emphasized on blocking alone, then Ratkovich could have a strong chance of winning out. He’s an effective runner and receiver, but will need to prove himself as a blocker and special teamer too.
TE - 4
The first three spots on the depth chart are set in stone with Kyle Pitts, trade acquisition Jonnu Smith, and blocking specialist Parker Hesse. Smith’s addition, in particular, is really getting undervalued by the general consensus. The last time he was in an Arthur Smith offense, he proved himself as an effective red-zone specialist with 41 receptions for 447 yards (10.9 YPR) and 8 TDs.
There’s a battle brewing for Atlanta’s fourth tight end spot between QB-convert Feleipe Franks, 2022 seventh-rounder John FitzPatrick, and 2022 UDFA Tucker Fisk. I have a hunch that we might see MyCole Pruitt return before the start of training camp, but in the meantime, I’m giving the edge to FitzPatrick. Atlanta currently has just one blocking specialist in Hesse—I think they’d like to bolster the group with another strong blocker.
WR - 5
Besides Drake London, this depth chart probably fills many observers with dread. I would caution patience—we could see another veteran signing here, especially if Corey Davis is released—and remind you that the wide receiver position is likely to be de-emphasized in Atlanta’s 2023 offense. Kyle Pitts and Drake London will be the de facto outside receivers, with Mack Hollins and Scotty Miller playing rotational roles.
Hollins enjoyed a breakout season with a bad Raiders team in 2022 and is one of the NFL’s best run blockers, a trait that will get him a lot of snaps here. Miller is the Damiere Byrd replacement: a deep speedster who can take the top off the defense. KhaDarel Hodge returns as one of the best gunners in the NFL (and a capable depth receiver). While we were all expecting a significant addition in the draft, I think this actually signals a lot of faith in 2022 UDFA Jared Bernhardt. Bernhardt showed instant chemistry with Ridder and could get a real chance to make the roster once again.
OL - 9
LT Jake Matthews
LG Matthew Bergeron
C Drew Dalman
RG Chris Lindstrom
RT Kaleb McGary
T Germain Ifedi
C/G Matt Hennessy
G/T Josh Miles
C/G Ryan Neuzil
The Falcons return four out of five starters from one of the NFL’s best run blocking lines, handing out a record-setting extension to RG Chris Lindstrom and giving RT Kaleb McGary $11.5M/yr. 2022 center starter Drew Dalman seems like the clear favorite to reprise the role, as Atlanta has brought in very little competition for him. Once again, all eyes will be on the left guard battle in training camp. Second-round rookie Matthew Bergeron must convert from tackle to guard, but still seems to be the clear favorite to win the job.
Atlanta re-signed swing tackle Germain Ifedi to fill the same role in 2023, and I’d expect him to win the job once again. Another name to watch is veteran Josh Miles, who is by far the most proven of the other depth tackle options. He’ll compete with 2022 UDFA Tyler Vrabel and fellow veteran Ethan Greenidge on the outside.
The team did bring in a lot of competition for the depth spots on the interior, signing veteran Kyle Hinton and drafting Jovaughn Gwyn in the seventh round. Those two join an incredibly crowded group that also features primary interior backup Matt Hennessy, former left guard starter Jalen Mayfield (who missed all of 2022 with an injury), former UDFA Ryan Neuzil, 2022 sixth-rounder Justin Shaffer, and veteran Jonotthan Harrison. Right now, I give the edge to Hennessy and Neuzil, as both have shown flexibility at center and guard and have spent multiple years in the system.
DEFENSE - 25
EDGE - 6
The EDGE group has received a significant infusion of talent, raising the floor of this group tremendously. It’s also created a bit of a roster logjam, and will likely require Atlanta to carry 11 defensive linemen. That’s not a huge deal, given Lorenzo Carter’s ability to play off-ball linebacker in a pinch, and also allows the team to have a very deep rotation.
Calais Campbell will be back to playing EDGE for just the second time in his career—something that he’s extremely excited about. Even at age 37, Campbell remains one of the NFL’s premier run defenders and a consistently productive pass rusher. The Falcons will be expecting a step up from 2022 second-rounder Arnold Ebiketie, who showed a lot of promise as a rookie. Carter also returns to play a versatile role and provide high-end depth at multiple spots.
But that’s not all! Atlanta also added veteran Bud Dupree, who was waived by the Titans two years into a massive extension. We can’t be sure he’ll ever be back to his 2019/2020 level of play, but he’s still a solid starter on the outside at worst. 2022 third-rounder DeAngelo Malone didn’t get on the field much as a rookie, but I think he’s got a lot of potential to surprise. That just leaves third-round rookie Zach Harrison, who has the ability to contribute early as a run defender but may find himself as a gameday inactive early in his career.
IDL - 5
Atlanta also got a big boost to the interior defensive line this offseason with a major free agent addition in David Onyemata. He’ll join longtime stalwart Grady Jarrett as the primary starters, with the promising Ta’Quon Graham rotating in behind them. In a particularly shocking move, Eddie Goldman returned from retirement and appears primed to fill the nose tackle role. I’ll also give a shout-out to veteran Joe Gaziano, who never got a ton of snaps with the Chargers but made plays when given a chance.
LB - 4
Sensing a theme here? The linebacker group also got a big boost in talent with the signing of Kaden Elliss. Elliss was thrust into a starting role in New Orleans due to injuries and shined, piling up 7.0 sacks and looking stout against the run and in coverage. He’ll join 2022 second-rounder Troy Andersen, who is expected to take a significant step forward this season as he grows into his starting role. Andersen’s ceiling remains sky-high—he’s someone who could completely change the complexion of this defense if he hits the ground running this season.
Mykal Walker appears set to be the third linebacker thanks to his ability in coverage. While he seemed to fall out of favor with the previous defensive staff, we’ll see if he can endear himself to Ryan Nielsen and Co. and also contribute on special teams once again. 2022 UDFA Nate Landman only played a handful of snaps as a reserve, but once again has a good chance at making the roster. This is another spot we could see a veteran signing, with the team rumored to have looked into bringing back Rashaan Evans before the draft.
CB - 6
Clark Phillips III
One of the more dramatic makeovers from the 2022 roster, Atlanta’s cornerback room will look very different this season. A.J. Terrell is still the top corner and will likely remain in that role for the foreseeable future. Two major additions in Jeff Okudah (via trade) and Mike Hughes (via free agency) are penciled in at the other two starting spots, with Hughes expected to play the slot. I wouldn’t count out rookie Clark Phillips III finding a way into the starting lineup, but he should be CB4 at worst.
That leaves 1-2 depth spots, and I think Darren Hall and Dee Alford are the clear favorites at this point. Hall performed admirably when forced into the starting lineup, with a 65.5 overall PFF grade (and particularly high marks in run support with a 79.0). Dee Alford offers versatility in the slot and outside and also stepped up when called into action, with a solid 64.8 PFF grade (and again, high marks in run support at 78.2).
S - 4
Jessie Bates III
This room got a massive boost in free agency, as the Falcons brought in one of the NFL’s best safeties in Jessie Bates III. It’s hard to overstate how big his addition will be to this secondary, as Bates will lift the floor of the secondary tremendously and provide elite play on the backend. Richie Grant is the clear favorite to man the spot opposite Bates, and is likely to be featured closer to the line of scrimmage in Cover 1 looks. That should help him as he continues to develop his instincts and awareness playing deep.
In terms of the depth, Jaylinn Hawkins returns for the final year of his rookie contract as the third safety. His versatility to play deep or closer to the line of scrimmage makes him an ideal rotational piece and the first man off the bench in case of injury. Seventh-round rookie DeMarcco Hellams immediately becomes the favorite for the final safety spot due to his physicality, versatility, and plus ability on special teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS - 3
K Younghoe Koo
P Bradley Pinion
LS Liam McCullough
The Falcons have invested quite a bit in making their special teams unit one of the best in the league, with Younghoe Koo and Bradley Pinion now both locked up through 2025 or later. Long snapper Liam McCullough finally got an opportunity with Atlanta after bouncing around the league for a few years and didn’t disappoint.
While these players aren’t listed here, the team also has top options at both punt and kick returner in Avery Williams (who led the NFL in punt return average in 2022) and Cordarrelle Patterson, respectively.
What are your thoughts on this potential roster for the Falcons?