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Arthur Smith, Falcons proud of rookie class after season finale

Jan 8, 2023; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (25) runs the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

If Sunday’s 30-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was any indication, the Atlanta Falcons’ future looks bright due to a promising rookie class that really emerged as the season progressed.

First-year players Desmond Ridder, Tyler Allgeier and Drake London stole the show on offense in the victory over the Bucs, while fellow rookie Troy Andersen continued his strong play at linebacker on a young defense as the Falcons finished the season 7-10 for the second straight year.

It’s still too early to say if Ridder, a third-round pick, is Atlanta’s future at quarterback moving forward. But in four starts, Ridder made a case that he should be QB1 when the team opens the 2023 season due to his quick decision-making and strong arm.

In the win over the Bucs, Ridder fired his first two touchdown passes as a pro and completed 19 of 30 passes for a season-high 224 yards. For the season, he was 73 of 115 for 708 yards and two scores, good for an 86.4 passer rating.

Allgeier surpassed William Andrews (1,023) for the most rushing yards by a rookie in franchise history by running for 135 yards in the win over Tampa Bay (8-9). Allgeier, a fifth-round pick, rushed 210 times for 1,035 yards and three touchdowns for the year.

“There’s a reason we drafted him,” Atlanta coach Arthur Smith said. “I was pretty pleased with the way he was trending and then some of it was opportunities happen. I don’t know if anybody was running the ball better than (Cordarrelle Patterson) was earlier in the year around the league and unfortunately, he missed some time, and it was an opportunity where I thought Allgeier stepped in and did a nice job. So did Caleb Huntley. And I think he really took off so, some of it is by circumstance, but we had a lot of confidence when we took him out of BYU.”

London, a first-round pick, had six catches for a season-high 120 yards against the Bucs. He led the team in receptions (72) and yards (866) and tied for the team lead with four TDs.

Andersen, a second-round pick, started five games and had 69 tackles, three for a loss. Arnold Ebiketie, a second-round pick, and DeAngelo Malone, a third-round pick, also played significant roles on an Atlanta defense that could really take off if the Falcons can put the ball in the end zone more often.

“The next challenge is to make sure we become more explosive offensively,” Smith said. “We need more of a pass rush. I get all that. But every game except for one up in Cincinnati was a dogfight. These guys embraced it. There’s a big difference between this 7-10 and the last one.”

–Defensive coordinator Dean Peas, 73, announced his retirement after 50 years of coaching. Peas coached in high school, college and the pros and won Super Bowls with New England and Baltimore.

–Linebacker Rashaan Evans, cornerback Isaiah Oliver and right tackle Kaleb McGary are the team’s key free agents.

–Atlanta will have the No. 8 pick overall in the NFL draft. Don’t be surprised if upgrading the pass rush will be a top priority. Receiver, cornerback and the offensive and defensive lines are other areas that could use a boost in talent.

–Field Level Media