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Falcons rookie report: Pre-Week 1 edition

Expectations for a couple members of this class are sky-high.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

It’s not a stretch to say that the 2023 draft class will be integral to Atlanta’s success this year, even if that’s really only true of a couple of the players they drafted heading into Week 1.

Because of that fact, and because we tracked Falcons rookie success (or lack thereof) last season, we’re going to do it again this year. Here’s a pre-Week 1 look at where rookies stand, their anticipated roles, and what we might see against the Panthers. We’ll check back in next week.

RB Bijan Robinson: Set to play a huge role

What’s to say? We’ve hardly seen Robinson, who played very little in preseason, but what we’ve seen of him in practice has been electric. The coaching staff has talked up his ability as a runner and pass catcher, and he’s expected to start and get the ball quite often. If Atlanta’s going to be the kind of earthquake in jerseys we expect them to be on offense, Bijan will lead the way.

Against the Panthers, I’d expect the Falcons to unleash Robinson right away with 20-25 touches, with 15-20 of those set to be carries and five or so catches. What he does with those touches will help to determine how smoothly this goes against Carolina.

G Matthew Bergeron: Starting at left guard

Unlike Jalen Mayfield, who was pressed into action at left guard and more or less immediately fell to pieces, Bergeron has had most of the summer to work as the starting left guard and has shown encouraging signs. With no real competition for the job and a skillset that fits this offense well, Bergeron should be locked into the position all year long.

Against Carolina, look to see how he paves the way for Robinson and Tyler Allgeier (probably quite well) and how well he holds up in pass protection (hopefully quite well).

DE Zachary Harrison: Mixing in to the rotation

I don’t know that I expect Harrison to have a major role right away. He looked better than anticipated this summer, though, so the Falcons may try to at least get him the handful of snaps that 2022 DeAngelo Malone received per game.

Against Carolina, I’d expect that to be especially true, given that the veterans are all healthy and expected to be out there. If he can make magic happen on his 3-5 snaps on defense, he’ll push his way into a larger role down the line.

CB Clark Phillips III: Reserve role to start

There’s enormous upside here for an aggressive, versatile cornerback like Phillips, and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t a starter down the line. With A.J. Terrell and Dee Alford locked into starting jobs, Jeff Okudah set to return soon, and Tre Flowers set to fill in if Okudah can’t go, Phillips is effectively the team’s top reserve at the moment.

The less he has to play right away, the better, simply because that means injury isn’t killing the Falcons at a vital position like cornerback. Look for him to factor in on special teams against Carolina and perhaps a handful of plays as a fourth cornerback, should the Falcons need one.

S DeMarcco Hellams: Special teams to start

No player did more to endear himself to this fanbase than Hellams over the summer, given that he was a genuine star in preseason action. I loved the fundamental soundness of his game in those three contests, as we saw flashes of a playmaking presence who delivers big hits without sacrificing smart play. Long-term, Hellams is going to be this team’s third safety, and he ought to be a good one if he can grow.

For right now and against Carolina, though, he’s fourth on the depth chart and figures to get plenty of time on special teams, where he excelled for Alabama.

G Jovaughn Gwyn: Deep reserve with a future

He’s had a mixed preseason and mostly ran with the deep reserves, but Atlanta’s evident appreciation for his potential is reflected by his roster spot and the fact that he’s listed as Matthew Bergeron’s top backup at left guard. That might not be true in a game situation—Ryan Neuzil or Kyle Hinton might be first up—but the Falcons didn’t want to lose Gwyn and want to give him the development time he needs. We’ll see if he finds his way into any games, but for the moment, my expectation is that he’ll spend the year marinating and pushing hard for a backup role in 2024.