Falcons trade up in 2nd round to draft Syracuse OL Bergeron

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — While running back Bijan Robinson remains the focus of the Atlanta Falcons' NFL draft, general manager Terry Fontenot didn't want to forget about the offensive and defensive lines.

The Falcons addressed a need on their offensive line by selecting Syracuse offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron after trading with Indianapolis in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday night.

Atlanta then looked for pass rush help by selecting Ohio State edge rusher Zach Harrison in the third round.

“We clearly value the lines of scrimmage and know that’s where the games are won and lost,” Fontenot said.

Fontenot described Bergeron and Harrison as “violent, tough physical players.”

Bergeron was introduced at the draft as a guard, an indication he will be given an opportunity to fill the left guard position left vacant when Elijah Wilkinson signed as a free agent with the Arizona Cardinals. Wilkinson started nine games at left guard for Atlanta last season.

“He's got a lot of power in his game,” said Falcons coach Arthur Smith of Bergeron. “He’s wired the right way.”

The Falcons acquired the No. 38 overall pick in the draft from the Colts for the No. 44 overall pick in the second round and a fourth-round pick, No. 110 overall, on Saturday.

Harrison had 3 1/2 sacks as a senior and four sacks in 2021. The Falcons had only 21 sacks in 2022, ahead of only one team, after ranking last in sacks in 2021.

Harrison played on the edge and inside on Ohio State's defensive line but will work primarily as an edge rusher as a rookie. Smith said he wants Harrison to learn from such veterans as Calais Campbell, who will turn 37 in September.

“There are a lot of veterans in there that can play,” Smith said, adding as Harrison “continues to work and have success, his game can expand. ... That's a very good room for him right now."

Atlanta focused on boosting its defense in free agency. The Falcons signed former Cincinnati safety Jessie Bates III to a $64 million, four-year contract, linebacker Kaden Elliss to a three-year deal, cornerback Mike Hughes to a two-year deal and defensive lineman David Onyemata, who played with Elliss in New Orleans, to a three-year deal.

Bergeron, a native of Quebec, played right tackle and left tackle at Syracuse. He said he worked at left guard in one Senior Bowl practice and also talked with Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford about moving to guard in the NFL.

“We talked about my versatility,” Bergeron said, adding “I told them how open I am (to the move).

“I think it’s easier to move from outside to inside, especially when you play your whole life at tackle. If you play tackle in college you’re a natural, you’re athletic."

Bergeron's Atlantic Coast Conference loyalties surfaced when he was asked what he knows about Atlanta. “I know the Braves and I hate Georgia Tech,” he said.

The Falcons chose Texas running back Robinson with the No. 8 overall pick in the first round on Thursday night. It marked the third consecutive year Fontenot and Smith used their first-round pick to add a skill position player on offense.

Robinson spent Friday at the Falcons practice facility and posed with a No. 1 Falcons jersey while adding he hasn't decided on his real uniform number. Last year's first-round pick, wide receiver Drake London, wears the No. 5 Robinson wore at Texas.

Robinson became the first running back selected among the top 10 draft picks since Saquon Barkley was the No. 2 overall pick by the New York Giants in 2018.

Fontenot spoke of Robinson's versatility as a runner and receiver as an example of “position-less football.”

Robinson said he took pride in his ability to line up as a slot receiver at Texas and said versatile skills are the path to more running backs breaking into the top 10 of future NFL drafts.

“I see that's where the running back position is being valued now,” Robinson said. “That's where I think it's going to be headed.”

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