The 2023 NFL Draft class for the Atlanta Falcons can be summed up in one word: impactful. With the selections of running back Bijan Robinson through cornerback Clark Phillips III, the Falcons now have the resources to mount a division title challenge in an NFC South that is currently in flux. Let’s do a deeper dive into these draft picks.
The Falcons picked Bijan Robinson with the 8th overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. Robinson ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.46 seconds at the NFL Combine while compiling more than 3,300 yards from scrimmage over the past two years for the Texas Longhorns. Robinson averaged 6.7 yards per touch.
“I take pride in catching the football, too, as much as running the ball and blocking,” Robinson said. “I think that if you’re a complete player, it just makes the most sense.
Falcons head coach Arthur Smith loves the fact Robinson can catch the ball out of the backfield and line up in the slot.
“Get unique with your personnel packages,” Smith said. “You line up where it looks like 22 personnel, you line up where it looks like 10 personnel, get in the empty. So it allows you to put a lot of stress, even just pre-snap logistically as you’re going onto the field the way we operate and play and we’ll evolve.”
Falcons General Manager Terry Fontenot said Robinson was the their first option all along.
“We loved [Robinson] and we said, ‘if we go back this many spots and pick up another pick and risk losing him, is that worth it or not?’ Fontenot said during a press conference. “That’s what you have to weigh out and we didn’t think it was.”
In the second round, the Falcons selected Matthew Bergeron with the 38th overall pick. Bergeron is a 6’5”, 318-pound offensive tackle from Syracuse University who has been tabbed to play left guard, a need that has been sorely lacking. He arrives in Atlanta with second-team All-ACC honors.
Bergeron impressed the Falcons coaches during the Senior Bowl practice sessions and attracted a lot of praise for his play on the inside. His versatility will be an asset for Arthur Smith.
In the third round, the Falcons selected Zach Harrison, a 6’6” 274 pound edge rusher from The Ohio State University. Harrison appeared in 46 games and started in 27 for the Buckeyes. Additionally, Harrison earned first-team all-Big Ten Conference honors as a senior last season after recording 34 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, four pass break-ups and six quarterback hurries.
“As far as stopping the run, it’s about want to,” Harrison said during a press conference. “I feel like I got the drive to do that and I feel like I’m hitting my stride.”
Even though Harrison did not fully live up to his potential in Columbus, the Falcons believe they can develop the tenacity that Harrison needs to get Bryce Young, Derek Carr and opposing quarterbacks to the ground.
Cornerback Clark Phillips III was selected by the Falcons in the fourth round (114th overall). In his college career at the University of Utah, Phillips had 111 tackles, 9 interceptions and 19 pass breakups. Four of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, which is a school record. Additionally, he was a Jim Thorpe finalist, an award given to college football’s top cornerback. AJ Terrell, Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Darren Hall, and now Phillips, Atlanta has some serious depth on the outside. He’s 5’9″ and weighs in at 190 pounds. However, his technique is top-tier.
“He’s so smart and intelligent,” Fontenot said of Phillips III. “One of the first things he mentioned to us was how much instance he puts on film study. Not something that you necessarily hear a lot of college defensive backs bring up. The football character, the personal character, the football intelligence, film junkie, gym rat, all those things. So you know all that about him, and then it matches with the tape when you watch the tape and then when we get to spend more time with him person.”
In the seventh round, the Atlanta Falcons selected safety DeMarcco Hellams (224th overall) out of the University of Alabama. Hellams had 108 tackles in 2022 and was the Crimson Tide’s leading tackler. Additionally, Hellams was named one of the defensive players of the week by the Alabama coaching staff for his efforts against Texas, ULM, Arkansas, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Austin Peay.
Immediately after that, the Falcons selected Jovaughn Gwyn (225th overall), an offensive guard out of the University of South Carolina. The 6’3″ 300 pounder from Charlotte was named second-team All-SEC in 2022.