Matt Ryan will likely still be the Atlanta Falcons‘ quarterback in 2022, but that doesn’t mean the franchise can’t start the process of replacing him ahead of schedule. At least that’s the idea posited in the latest mock draft from Pro Football Focus.
A writer for the analytics site has the Falcons picking a record-setting quarterback in the top 10 next April. The plan would then be for said rookie passer to spend a year watching from the bench as Ryan plays out his final year in Atlanta and saves the Falcons from a significant hit against the salary cap.
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QB Who Broke Dan Marino’s Record Tipped to Be Falcons’ Future
PFF analyst Eric Eager has the Falcons taking Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett in the 2022 NFL draft.
Eager noted how Pickett “would likely first sit behind Matt Ryan, who carries a $40.5 dead cap charge if released before June 1 next year.”
Eager’s analysis even referenced a key schematic similarity that might help Pickett quickly get up to speed in Atlanta: “The Falcons offense is very quarterback-friendly with play action, a situation in which Pickett generated 9.4 yards per pass attempt this year.”
There’s plenty of sound logic about this pick. Ryan is 36 years old and set to count for $48.6 million against the cap next year, as well as $43.6 million in 2023, per Spotrac.com. The Falcons need to make a major decision about the face of the franchise sooner rather than later, and drafting Pickett would buy them a year’s leeway and also safeguard the future.
It would also offer cause for genuine excitement, given how effective Pickett has been with the Panthers. He’s been so good he’s shattered the records of outstanding NFL quarterbacks past and present at the collegiate level.
Earlier in December, Pickett surpassed a mark set by arguably the most famous Pitt alum, Miami Dolphins legend Dan Marino. Pickett threw two touchdowns to help beat Wake Forest 45-21 and win the ACC Championship on Saturday, December 4.
Those scoring strikes took Pickett above Marino’s mark of 79 career touchdown passes for the Panthers, according to ESPN. The same source also detailed how Pickett’s second touchdown pass in that game gave him an ACC-record 42 in a single season, one more than Deshaun Watson threw for Clemson in 2016.
Pickett’s new records more than prove his talent with his arm, but the win over Wake Forest also showcased his ability as a runner. He scored on a 58-yard run that included a controversial “fake slide” subsequently ruled illegal, but only after the game, per Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde.
Pickett’s dual-threat skills would add a new dimension to the Falcons’ offense the team currently lacks with the static Ryan taking snaps.
Drafting Pickett would also be a way for Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot to accelerate their reboot of a franchise that has grown stale since Ryan and the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LVI.
A Rookie QB Makes Sense to Lead a Younger Core
Fontenot and Smith have started their rebuild on a platform of youth. A new core is forming around exciting talents like record-breaking rookie tight end Kyle Pitts.
A Pickett to Pitts connection could define a more expansive Falcons offense for the next decade. The Falcons would also have the chance to surround their nascent signal-caller with some young, dynamic wide receivers. This team still needs to replace Julio Jones and find better ways to cope without top target Calvin Ridley, who has taken time away from the NFL for his mental wellbeing.
There could also be another youth-based regeneration in the backfield. Cordarrelle Patterson has been a revelation, but the 30-year-old is also a free agent this offseason. Meanwhile, 28-year-old Mike Davis has disappointed somewhat after arriving from NFC South rivals the Carolina Panthers in 2021.
Atlanta’s youth movement isn’t just confined to the offense. A handful of promising players have been making their respective marks on defense, including 2021 draft picks, safety Richie Grant and outside linebacker Adetokunbo Ogundeji.
Meanwhile, A.J. Terrell, taken 16th overall in 2020, has emerged as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL during his second season as a pro.
The Falcons have all the hallmarks of a franchise quietly establishing a younger core of talent capable of leading a new era. Drafting Ryan’s replacement, rather than delving into the veteran class, seems like the next logical step.
NOT Kenny Pickett please!
Draft Bailey Zappe (QB, WKU) with 3rd round pick.
1st: D Line
2nd: O Line
7th: O Line