Matt Ryan’s job as starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons isn’t going to be under threat in 2022. Not when he carries a significant cap hit for the next two years, and not when there are slim pickings available in free agency and at the top end of this year’s NFL draft.
The current quarterback class is deemed to be lacking in star power, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few sleepers the Falcons should consider. Unheralded passers with the raw talent to eventually succeed 36-year-old Ryan further down the line.
One such under-the-radar QB is being tabbed for the Falcons in the second round by one mock draft writer. This signal-caller is rising up boards after turning heads at the Senior Bowl. His potential is considered worth the Falcons using the extra second-round pick they got when they traded franchise receiving leader Julio Jones to the Tennessee Titans last offseason.
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Jones Pick Can Fetch Senior Bowl Star
In his three-round mock draft after practice week at the Senior Bowl, Pro Football Network’s Dalton Miller finds the Falcons a quarterback for the future, in the shape of Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder.
He joins Atlanta as the 58th player taken, representing the pick the Falcons got when they dealt Jones. Becoming the player the Falcons essentially received for Jones would only add to the pressure on Ridder, given this scenario would also see him locked in as Ryan’s heir apparent.
It’s pressure the 22-year-old ought to be able to handle based on the way he’s caught the eye at the Senior Bowl. Ridder was named “arguably the biggest winner” of the players in attendance in Mobile, Alabama, by Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus.
Treash also credited Ridder with making “several accurate and anticipatory throws,” including this one captured by the PFF writer:
The Falcons have a strong presence at the Senior Bowl, notably general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith. They’ve been keeping watch over every prospect involved, and the team has already spoken with Ridder, according to Kevin Knight of The Falcoholic:
Ridder is a player on the rise, but he would need to bide his time before getting a chance in Atlanta.
Ryan’s Going Nowhere Just Yet
Quarterback is one of the few positions the Falcons can take for granted this offseason. Ryan is still in the fold, and that won’t change this year thanks to a contract set to pay him $16.25 million in base salary, per Spotrac.com.
Not many teams will be able to absorb Ryan’s salary, but that could be a silver lining for the Falcons. It means the team should enter the 2022 season with the strongest quarterback situation in the NFC South.
Tom Brady’s retirement leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in flux, while the New Orleans Saints still haven’t replaced Drew Brees. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers have an unenviable choice to make between Sam Darnold, Cam Newton or finding a new face of the franchise.
Ryan gives the Falcons stability at a time when there aren’t many appealing alternatives. The lack of options in the draft is something D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution bemoaned to Audacy.com’s Knox Bardeen:
Ledbetter and Bardeen aren’t the only ones who believe Ryan’s status is secure for at least another year. ESPN recently simulated what will happen with the 26 teams who can be said to have question marks about their quarterbacks this offseason.
Falcons reporter Michael Rothstein confidently put the team in the “Sticking with what we got” category. His reasoning included Ryan’s rapport with Atlanta’s current staff: “Ryan and second-year Falcons coach Arthur Smith like working together, and Ryan continues to offer stability at the position.”
Rothstein also correctly pointed out how the Falcons have many other needs to address. They include offensive line, wide receiver and pass rush.
Any one of those three areas would be bolstered if the right player is drafted eighth overall. Fontenot should also find another ready-made starter with his initial second-round choice, the 43rd pick.
That would leave the Falcons free to get creative at 58. Rolling the dice on an intriguing quarterback who remains a work in progress, like Ridder, would be a good way of preparing for a future without Ryan.
If it worked, the Falcons would also be declared the clear winners of the Jones trade.