The 2023 rookie class for the Falcons is a vital one, given that it features two current starters on offense and a handful of would-be starters or core reserves on defense. Given that, we want to check in with them frequently; I’ve neglected to do so through the first two weeks but will fix now and going forward.
Thus far, the team has gotten a huge contribution from the name you’d expect, and are still waiting for others to blossom with playing time and experience. Here’s this week’s rookie report.
RB Bijan Robinson: Strong start despite Week 3 results
Effective in the first week and awe-inspiring in the second week, Robinson finally stayed earthbound a bit in Week 3 against the Lions. Despite a couple of nifty plays, Robinson was held to 33 yards on 10 carries and four catches for 27 yards; he dropped one of his six targets.
That said, Robinson is by far Atlanta’s most effective player on offense to this point, as he’s leading the team in rushing and receptions, is good for at least one highlight-reel play per game, and has been as advertised as both a runner and receiving option. The Falcons are just scratching the surface with his usage, which is good news for an offense that has been lackluster when they aren’t rolling with him.
G Matthew Bergeron: Rookie struggles, but will be fine
Thrown into the fire as a starter in his first season—whether he would’ve earned the job over Matt Hennessy is anyone’s guess, given that Hennessy wasn’t healthy—Bergeron has been about what you’d expect. The talent is there and evident in stretches, when he delivers huge blocks to pave the way for Robinson and Tyler Allgeier, and his pass protection has on the whole been better than anticipated. He’s going to blossom into a fine starter, at worst.
That said, he is having some of the struggles you’d anticipate from a rookie who wasn’t known for his ability to keep quarterbacks clean. Pro Football Focus puts him at 16th among guards in pressures allowed thus far with eight—a scuffling Chris Lindstrom is just one pressure behind him—and Kenny Clark gave him some real fits in Week 2 in particular. Detroit was not a particularly kind environment for Bergeron, either.
For all that, I’ve seen nothing to worry about here, though; this is a good player with a really high ceiling getting his feet wet in the NFL. If he’s a genuine liability late in the season and the rest of the line has improved we’ll have something to worry about, but I doubt that’ll be the case.
DE Zach Harrison: Playing a limited role
The team’s younger reserves are getting very limited work compared to the starters thus far, with Harrison playing just a tick over a quarter of the defensive snaps to this point. He’s acquitted himself fairly well to this point, as he has been credited with four run stops by PFF and looks like a capable run defender. The pass rush promise is there, but unsurprisingly given that it has only been three games and Harrison needed some work in that regard coming out of college, we haven’t seen it yet.
Harrison is also, as you’d expect, being asked to contribute on special teams. I’d expect his role on defense to grow as the season rolls along, especially with Calais Campbell likely to need more breathers as we approach winter.
CB Clark Phillips: Richie Grant Rookie Year Memorial Role
Maybe the most acclaimed pick in this draft class not named Bijan Robinson, Phillips is a heady, aggressive cornerback who has starter upside. He’s just not necessarily going to get a chance to show it this year.
We’ve only seen Phillips in two games thus far, as he was inactive for Week 3 with Jeff Okudah returning, and we’ve yet to see him play on defense. His role on special teams will remain when he is active, but at the moment the team has five veteran cornerbacks they appear to want out there on gameday. Chances are good that unless injuries pile up, Phillips will have a limited role in his first season and will be asked to step into a major one in 2024, taking the same kind of route Richie Grant did when he first arrived in Atlanta.
S DeMarcco Hellams: Special teams role
A sure tackler and special teams standout at Alabama, Hellams pushed his way onto the 53 man roster with a superlative summer. For the moment—and likely for most of his rookie season—that special teams role is what he’ll have to work with, though he’ll obviously have a role if injuries crop up in the safety group.
Long-term he might be able to make a case to be the team’s third safety; it likely won’t happen this year.
G Jovaughn Gwyn: Weekly inactive
The Falcons are effectively mothballing Gwyn until they’re ready to use him. The seventh rounder is a player the Falcons very clearly like, given that they kept him on the 53 man roster, and he’ll develop as they make him a weekly inactive and wait until they might need him active on gameday. Right now, Ryan Neuzil is running ahead of him at center and Neuzil and Kyle Hinton are ahead of him on the depth chart at guard.