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2023 Falcons rookie review: Matthew Bergeron’s uneven year doesn’t diminish his talent

It was an up-and-down rookie season, but Bergeron’s talent is readily evident.

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons have one of the better offensive line coaches in football, as Dwayne Ledford has worked wonders with the likes of Drew Dalman, Elijah Wilkinson, Storm Norton, and others in recent years. Still, they would love to just have five talented starters lining up so Ledford and company don’t have to work magic, and they took an important step toward that outcome in 2023 when they drafted Matthew Bergeron in the second round.

Bergeron came to Atlanta expected to shift from left tackle to left guard after an impressive career at Syracuse, and sure enough, that’s where he was in the summer. Matt Hennessy was expected to compete with him for the starting left guard job, potentially allowing Atlanta to ease the rookie into action, but an injury robbed Hennessy of the chance and Bergeron took the job and never looked back.

His first season was a rookie season, with all that entails. There were hugely impressive blocks and feats of strength, showcasing why the Falcons were so eager to land Bergeron in the first place, and there were stretches where he was bulldozed and spun around. What’s important for Bergeron is not letting those growing pains define his career, given that his promise is evident, and for the Falcons to ensure he takes the kind of second-year leap enjoyed by Drew Dalman.

Here’s a look back at where Bergeron was and where he might be going in 2024.

2023 statistics

1,129 snaps in 17 games and 17 starts

6 sacks allowed

4 penalties

59.5 Pro Football Focus grade (57.1 pass blocking, 60.2 run blocking)

2023 role

Availability is an important thing for a starting offensive lineman, and by those standards, Bergeron was a rock for the Falcons in 2023. He played 100% of the offensive snaps in 16 games and 98% in the one game he didn’t clock every single snap in, and he was the only Falcons offensive lineman to come close to playing that often. His 1,129 snaps were equaled or exceeded by only 19 other NFL offensive linemen, and that durability was a difference maker with the Falcons having to cycle their linemen so often.

The rest of Bergeron’s play was up-and-down. Per Pro Football Focus, Bergeron was 71st in terms of pass blocking grade and 51st in run blocking among NFL guards, with his overall grade ranking 57th among guards. That would put him firmly in the bottom tier of starting guards in 2023, which makes sense given that he was a rookie transitioning from his college position of tackle to guard. That transition was far less painful for Bergeron than Jalen Mayfield, the team’s first crack at a conversion under Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, as he was still a credible starter. It was just also, as we cautioned it might be, a bit rocky.

Bergeron had his superb efforts on the year—that first week against the Saints, strong days against the Lions, Cardinals, and Panthers—but he also took his lumps in pass protection and as a run blocker, sometimes looking like the weak link on the line. The fact that he was out there nearly every snap learning on the job and put up most of his stronger efforts in the back half of the season is encouraging; the overall picture is of a talented rookie offensive lineman struggling a bit in his adjustment to the NFL.

2024 outlook

This one is easy. Bergeron is guaranteed a starting job at left guard again, assuming good health, and now has a full season as a starter under his belt. Just 23 years old and with the power, quick feet, and blocking acumen to thrive long-term, Bergeron is a player I have high hopes for in 2024 and beyond. The team will too.

The chief concern will be whether he takes a concrete step forward this year or not, but I’m fairly convinced he will. The Falcons should ensure they have a capable reserve guard or two on hand—both in case Bergeron falters and in case Chris Lindstrom misses time again—but while Mayfield was a disaster his first season, Bergeron merely put together the kind of year we see from plenty of first-year starters, especially those changing positions from college to the pros. I’d expect a big jump in terms of his run blocking effectiveness, helping to pave the way for an improved rushing attack, and at least modest gains in his abilities in pass protection, especially without quarterbacks behind him holding on to the ball too long or wandering into sacks.

He has a bright future, in other words, and I’d expect him to turn an uneven rookie year into something pretty great for 2024.