With the 8th pick of the 2023 draft, the Atlanta Falcons have set their sights on a new offensive weapon. In Bijan Robinson, Georgia’s front office has once again favored pure talent and continues to form its own identity. Far from conventions and with an authenticity that makes them almost predictable, the Arthur Smith band is moving forward quietly with a very clear vision of the future.
It was almost obvious. If the suspense remained intact until the end, Atlanta has still selected the best skill player of the draft. Remember in 2021: after refusing potential trades or a successor to Matt Ryan, Terry Fontenot called Kyle Pitts, TE, with the 4th draft pick. A refusal to maximize its strengths to ensure a generational talent. In 2022, rebelotte: no movement on the evening of the repechage, the Falcons remain in 8th position to pick up the best offensive player on their board: Drake London, WR. And amazement in 2023, while trades flew through the room like on the New York stock exchange, Fontenot did not move. Then, when the time came, quietly entered Bijan Robinson’s name as 8th choice. Another offensive player, still without going up or down.
Each time, therefore, this feeling that the choice has imposed itself on the front office of Atlanta as obvious. As if we had not forced to have our player, but at the time of the pick, there is a talent that cannot be refused. Yes, but there, it’s starting to show… But after all, it doesn’t matter too much: the offensive reconstruction seems to be coming to an end. Of course, a lot rests on the shoulders of Desmond Ridder in the top job. But the least we can say is that Atlanta’s offensive unit has dangerous potential.
But why Bijan?
Indeed, Bijan Robinson is the best player of this 2023 vintage. But even so, what will a Runningback bring to a franchise being redesigned? Especially when we’re talking about the Falcons, one of whose rare qualities in 2022 was their racing game, already very well put together… What will Bijan change in the equation?
The first answer would come by turning the question around: if we can obtain these results with Tyler Allgeier (good little RB by the way), how far can we go with a generational talent like Bijan? If Allgeier stood out for his resistance to the tackle, it is difficult to minimize improvement in terms of vision, explosiveness and pure speed. We are talking here about two athletes who do not box in the same category. This is a key point for Arthur Smith, who wants an extremely horizontal running game. The Falcons favor all types of outside zone, stretch or sweep and this is reflected in their offensive line. The huge investments made in Chris Lindstrom, Kaleb McGary and Matthew Bergeron confirm this. Atlanta goes for mobility in the trenches, and having it for the ball carrier doesn’t hurt. Just as Smith was able to blow up Cordarelle Patterson, he will be able to propel Bijan.
The second answer, and this is more of a hunch than a proven fact, is versatility. If Allgeier gave satisfaction in the running game, he also showed his limits as a receiver. His meager total of 16 receptions over the season shows that his profile is not made for this kind of situation. His presence on the field therefore limits potential playcalls for Smith. The addition of Bijan Robinson changes the equation.
Offensive play according to Arthur Smith begins and arises from a dominant running game. With Bijan, the Falcons find a rare pearl that allows them to run or pass without having to adapt their personnel. With a play designer of the caliber of Smith, we can imagine the field of possibilities growing visibly.
And now ?
Provided only that Desmond Ridder is a capable performer in this offense, Atlanta’s offensive overhaul seems complete. We talked about the addition of Robinson, but Terry Fontenot was not satisfied with the only addition of a rookie RB. Also of note: the trade to acquire Jonnu Smith, who knew Arthur Smith well in Tennessee, as well as the acquisition of Mack Hollins, very interesting in a role of WR3 in Las Vegas.
Imagine: the Falcons show up with Bijan Robinson, Jonnu Smith and Kyle Pitts on the field. The defense would therefore face a personal “12” (1 RB, 2 TE) favorable to the race on paper. In response, the defense should therefore favor the presence of Linebackers to contain the ground attack. But if, finally, the offense calls a pass, these Linebackers will be at a natural disadvantage to cover these 3 players. The many play-actions on which Arthur Smith’s scheme is based are therefore likely to be extremely difficult to defend. In 2022, the league learned to respect Atlanta’s ground game. In 2023, she will have to find a way to slow it down without exposing herself to the air.
(To deepen the theory a bit, we highly recommend this recent article on the emergence of 2 TE formations in the current game)
A task that seems extremely difficult as the group of Atlanta playmakers is coherent. If the defense finds an answer to Smith’s schemes (unlikely as they are multiple), the coach will for the first time be able to count on his players to dominate their direct opponent. The X factor of this group will therefore be its most important member: its Quarterback. We just haven’t seen enough of Desmond Ridder to have an opinion on his level, especially in year 2. The indicators point however to a QB able to execute the actions called, to progress in his readings and to distribute the swelling serenely.
There are still plenty of avoidable misses in Ridder’s game, but the floor is still high enough not to hold back the rest of the attack. The difference was also felt when he replaced Marcus Mariota at the end of the season. The Atlanta playcall also supported him, since Ridder attempted an average of 4 more passes per game than Mariota. Surrounded by a 5-star line and a good cast of playmakers, no one will ask for the moon from the young playmaker. Just to be an effective distributor, consistent, and to avoid turnovers.
And while the Falcons’ method may seem unorthodox, its formula is proven. Let’s recap:
- An attack based on a dominant running game.
- A passing game letting a young QB take advantage of advantageous matchups.
- Concepts giving pride of place to the Yards After Reception.
Does it remind you of anything? Yet these are the same ingredients that allowed San Francisco to reach the conference finals. We will not go so far as to predict this for the Falcons (we would already need a defense). The offensive method, however, is enticing for Atlanta, in particular because it is based on criteria that have proven themselves with the Niners. All is not similar, of course, and it is not Kyle Shanahan who wants. But concerning me, I must admit to having been conquered by the creative spirit of Arthur Smith. To the point of not doubting the success of his new attack.
The method of rebuilding the workforce in Atlanta is not without questions. Doubts remain about certain choices, and the management of the capital available is not always optimal. What the Falcons can’t be faulted for, however, is having a vision. The movements carried out summer after summer are clear and show a very readable will. After 2 seasons of outperforming a starving workforce, Arthur Smith finally has something to get his birds off the ground. With greater resources, however, come greater expectations, and the pressure for results is felt for this Front Office. The success of the operations will depend above all on the offensive genius of Arthur Smith. But on this point, we are optimistic.