New look Falcons get set for 2023 season

Jun 14, 2023; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson (7) runs during a drill during minicamp at IBM Performance Field. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The start of the NFL season is always an exciting time with teams and fanbases filled with anticipation of what the new year will bring, hoping to see the results of the personnel changes  made in the offseason. The falcons are amongst the teams garnering much attention, as they have much to be optimistic about with their returning and incoming talent.  

From the offensive side, they will be led by second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder. Unlike last year, Ridder will be the clear starter after taking over the reins at the end of the last season in place of Marcus Mariota. Ridder went 2-2 as a starter last season. Now being in the second year of Arthur Smith’s offensive system and after a full training camp with the first team, he will be able to showcase a greater comfort level leading the Falcons offense. His performance will also answer the biggest question all fans have: is Ridder the franchise quarterback who can lead the team  to perennial success? 

Fans are optimistic as reports from training camp have claimed he has made smarter decisions with the ball and has built  chemistry with his pass catchers, especially down the field. Additionally, Ridder is the only returning starting quarterback in the NFC South. 

Ridder has multiple young offensive playmakers around him, as Atlanta used their last three first-round picks on skill positions. In the 2021 draft, the Falcons used their first-round pick on tight end Kyle Pitts, who was anticipated to be one of the best tight end prospects in recent years. While injuries may not have allowed Pitts to reach the level he was anticipated to, he has still become one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. In his rookie year, he finished out the season with over 1,000 receiving yards. 

In the 2022 NFL Draft, a draft full of elite wide receivers, the Falcons took Drake London as the first wideout off the board with their first-round pick. London appeared overshadowed by other rookie wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, but he still put together a strong outing for his rookie season, surpassing 800 yards and finding the endzone on four occasions. In Ridder’s four starts, he shared a strong connection with London, as he was the top receiver in three of Ridder’s four games. 

This year, the Falcons drafted running back Bijan Robinson out of Texas. Robinson is touted to be the best running back prospect since Saquon Barkley at Penn State. During his time at Texas, he emerged as one of the nation’s top rushers with his big-play ability. Robinson is a strong pass-catching back and can be hard to tackle, especially in the open field, making him a nightmare for opposing defenses. Due to his preseason performances, Robinson’s rushes have built up a lot of excitement in the Falcons fanbase. His playmaking ability will be really beneficial for the growth of Ridder, as it will open the play-action passing game and provide a strong option in the shorter pass game.  

Not only has the offense made some notable changes, but the defense strengthened their unit as well. First-time defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen will be at the helm for the unit, and veteran Calais Campbell, who is entering his 16th season in the league after stints in Arizona, Jacksonville and Baltimore, is joining the defensive line. He is a strong defensive end who will bring veteran leadership to the defense. 

In the secondary, the Falcons brought in standout safety Jessie Bates III from Cincinnati. He has proven to be a consistent playmaker on the defensive side with key contributions in big moments, having multiple playoff interceptions under his belt. Atlanta also traded for former first-round draft pick Jeff Okudah from Detroit. Okudah was a proven elite cornerback in college, but injuries have troubled him throughout his time in the NFL. He has great potential and will look to show that during his time as a Falcon.  

Atlanta also brought in notable veterans Bud Dupree from Tennessee and David Onyemata from the Saints. The Falcons’ revamped defense is looking to turn in a strong showing this upcoming season. The NFC South is one of the divisions with the greatest uncertainty. The division is looking for a new king team after being largely  dominated by Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The Falcons have all the tools to allow themselves to win a divisional championship.  With all the restructuring and draft choices, Falcon fans can feel cautiously optimistic for the year.