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Calais Campbell believes Falcons are 'gonna surprise a lot of people this year'

Calais Campbell's decision to move south came as a bit of a surprise to most followers of football, but the veteran defensive lineman believes he's just ahead of the curve.

Campbell joined the Atlanta Falcons on a one-year deal in late March, boarding a ship that isn't quite fueled for a serious title pursuit -- at least not at this stage. It isn't yet time to leave the dock for the start of the 2023 campaign, though, and based on how Atlanta has clawed its way to 7-10 finishes in each of the last two seasons, they have reason to think they'll exceed expectations.

Campbell is certainly buying what Atlanta is selling.

"I really liked his vision for the team," Campbell said of coach Arthur Smith on Monday. "I really thought he had a great game plan for where the team is at right now and where it's going, and I really feel like that's gonna surprise a lot of people this year. This team's gonna be a very competitive, tough team that'll win a lot of ball games."

Atlanta has undoubtedly been a tough bunch under Smith, consistently exceeding expectations set for a cap-strapped, rebuilding team. Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot made the difficult decision to move on from Matt Ryan last season and understood they'd have to patch together a quarterback room for the 2022 season, turning to Marcus Mariota and drafting Desmond Ridder in the third round.

The results were, well, not exactly stellar. A 7-10 finish saw the Falcons end in a three-way tie for runner-up to the division-champion Buccaneers in what was one of the NFL's worst divisions in 2022. But considering where the Falcons' roster stood entering 2022, Atlanta could see the season as a relative success. At the very least, it was a building block toward a brighter future.

Bringing in a player like Campbell -- a seasoned veteran with six Pro Bowls and a place on the All-Decade Team for the 2010s to his name -- is what a young Falcons team needed. Campbell can provide leadership by example and direction to a team that should benefit from his experience. 

From Campbell's perspective, Atlanta's sales pitch to him was quite enticing.

"One of the other things I liked about it a lot was because they said my role would be playing true D-end, playing on the edge on first and second down, which was very appealing," Campbell explained. "That Cam Jordan kind of role."

Campbell added: "Arthur Smith said he wanted a violent D-line, and I can bring a lot of violence, that's for sure."

Campbell spent his last few seasons chasing a ring with the Ravens, where he made an impact but never got close enough to a Super Bowl to think it might be around the corner. Baltimore ran out of time with Campbell, releasing him with the hopes they'd be able to retain him at a lower rate.

That didn't work out, of course, leading Campbell to join a club he views as an upstart. Unlike the rugged AFC North, there's plenty of opportunity in the NFC South.

"This team plays in a division that I feel like is wide-open," Campbell said. "They play in a conference that I feel like is just, you get to the playoffs -- it's your No. 1 goal -- and once you get to the playoffs, it's anybody's ball game, especially a team that plays good defense and runs the ball. That's playoff football.

"I feel like this team definitely has (that). I feel like if Ridder continues to develop and be who I think he can be, I wouldn't be surprised if we're playing late in January and potentially February."

That's a high bar to set for a team that hasn't cracked eight wins since 2017 and is proceeding with a second-year quarterback as its starter. Then again, a winner can't be a surprise without first overcoming some doubt.

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