Two of the Atlanta Falcons’ most important players explain why this season will be different

Drake London and Grady Jarrett share what they hope comes next for the team

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Two of the Atlanta Falcons’ most important players explain why this season will be different
Grady Jarrett jogs towards his sideline before a game against the Carolina Panthers this past November.

Photograph by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Not that we’re keeping tabs, but it’s been more than 2,035 days since the Atlanta Falcons last appeared in a playoff game. Even for a franchise that’s mastered the art of meh, that’s a long time.

But when you look around the team’s Flowery Branch training facilities these days, you sense change in the air. Some of that is literal—a strength and conditioning facility renovation is happening as we speak. Some of it is with the roster’s mindset. Players who were on last year’s 7-10 squad, as well as those new to the team, say things just feel different right now. No one quite knows if any of this will translate to the team’s first postseason game since January 2018. But after recently talking to key players on both sides of ball, we admit we’re excited to see how it all comes together for the September 10 home opener against the Carolina Panthers.

On the Offensive

All eyes will be on second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder. Overthrown balls and spotty decision-making got a pass his rookie season, but Ridder’s training wheels come off in year two. The Birds did their part to prep the youngster for success, surrounding him with talents from the draft (running back Bijan Robinson) and the free-agent market (wide receiver Mack Hollins). Now, it’s time for the 23-year-old to soar.

“He’s taking a leadership role and he’s doing well,” says Drake London—the team’s top man in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns a year ago—about Ridder’s maturity. “He keeps on growing with that. I’m excited to see him flourish.”

Two of the Atlanta Falcons’ most important players explain why this season will be different
Drake London talks to the press at the Flowery Branch training facility.

Photograph by DeMarco Williams

The Falcons finished 24th in the NFL in total yards in 2022, but with London getting more comfortable with his routes, Robinson running the ball, a healthy Kyle Pitts at tight end, and Cordarrelle Patterson slotted wherever he’s needed, that important number should improve.

“Those are a lot of explosive guys,” adds London. “Different body types all around the field. I think if we can go out there and execute, we’re gonna be special.”

Coming to Our Defense

Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot saw the same games you did last year. They know the team only sacked opposing QBs 21 times—second-worse in the NFL. Why else do you think they went out and got some pushy defensive players like David Onyemata and Calais Campbell in the offseason? Jessie Bates III and Jeff Okudah weren’t signed to put pressure in the backfield, but they will help A.J. Terrell solidify what could be a stout secondary.

“We got different players who do different things than we were doing with the last defense,” says Grady Jarrett, the Falcons’ standout defensive end who’s started every game for the past four seasons. “We’re just learning who goes where, when, and why. That’s the philosophy that coach is trying to get across. Play aggressive, attack the line of scrimmage, affect the quarterback, try to make negative plays, and put pressure on people.”

Two of the Atlanta Falcons’ most important players explain why this season will be different
Grady Jarrett talks with this story’s author at the Flowery Branch training facility.

Photograph by DeMarco Williams

If Jarrett’s crew does that, the Falcons should compete in a wobbly NFC South filled with roster concerns in Tampa Bay, Carolina, and New Orleans. “We can’t let it be about another team,” adds Jarrett. “We can’t let it be about the Bucs, the Panthers or the Saints. As long as we’re the best Atlanta Falcons, we’re gonna be where we wanna be. For me, it’s just about us being the best us. If we go out there and do what we do, I believe this team can get whatever it needs to get done. And that’s trying to win the division, get in the playoffs and compete for championships. That’s our goal here.”

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