Falcons Projected to Draft ‘Developmental Backup’ for Matt Ryan

Matt Ryan

Getty Will the Falcons develop a rookie QB behind Matt Ryan in 2022?

Matt Ryan’s gaudy salary cap hit the next two years means the Atlanta Falcons must begin thinking seriously about their options at quarterback. One choice is to keep Ryan for another year before resetting at the position in 2023.

The ideal way to prepare for such a reset would be to select a project in the 2022 NFL draft. A raw, young passer ready to be developed into Ryan’s obvious heir apparent.

That’s the projection made by one NFL writer, who believes the Falcons will draft Ryan’s eventual successor this year. The quarterback in question is deemed similar to Ryan in style as a pocket-passer who would suit Atlanta head coach Arthur Smith’s offense.

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Nevada Standout Chosen as Falcons’ Starter-in-Waiting

In his look at quarterback scenarios that could unfold this offseason, CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin thinks Nevada’s Carson Strong is the key to preparing for life without Ryan: “Matt Ryan should at least be shopped, even with a massive 2022 cap hit, but assuming Atlanta keeps him and gives stronger consideration to a QB reset in 2023, Strong would give them a developmental backup. His pocket presence and touch would likely appeal to coach Arthur Smith, who’s preferred more “point-guard” QBs like Ryan and Ryan Tannehill.”

There’s a lot of merit to this argument. Not least because of how difficult the Falcons would find it to shift Ryan this offseason.

The 36-year-old is carrying a cap hit of historic proportions, per Gridiron:

Things won’t get much better a year from now, when Ryan is set to count for $43,612,500 against 2023’s cap, according to Spotrac.com. The Falcons need a plan for what to do if and when Ryan finds a new home.

It’s something owner Arthur Blank told The Athletic‘s Josh Kendall he is already thinking about. There are only slim pickings on this year’s free-agency market, while those at the top end of the draft class haven’t wowed anybody enough to justify the Falcons using the eighth-overall pick on a quarterback.

The smarter move would be to take a calculated risk on a mid-rounder with the potential to grow into a starter at the pro level. Strong fits the bill after throwing for 4,175 yards and 36 touchdowns during his final season at Nevada, per Sports Reference.

Almost half of those scoring strikes were aimed into “tight windows,” according to PFF Draft, proof of Strong’s accuracy:

Those are numbers sufficient enough to impress anybody. They are also ample evidence of Strong’s comfort from the pocket.

He’s no runner, but the 22-year-old is a classic, pocket-based QB who likes to set his feet and launch throws from a set spot. As Benjamin noted, this is something that’s defined Ryan’s career with the Falcons.

Like any traditional-style passer, Strong has the range to make every kind of throw, something Sports Illustrated‘s The Draft Bible highlighted: “His touch is excellent and he understands that not everything has to be a fastball speaking to his ability to control the football. Strong puts a lot of air under his deep balls, allowing his receivers to run under them.”

The same source also described how efficient Strong is when working through his progressions: “Strong is decisive in the quick game and will take his first read immediately when open. Additionally, he does not get stuck on routes and progresses with his internal clock being very apparent as he throws it away or takes his check-down if needed.”

A lack of mobility is one reason why Strong is projected by Drae Harris of The Draft Network to still be on the board when the second round begins. While Bleacher Report’s Nate Tice named “medical concerns,” specifically a knee issue that dates back to high school, as just cause for Strong to go in the third round.

The Falcons needn’t worry about any question marks surrounding Strong. Not when Ryan can still hold down the fort for another season.

Ryan’s Still an Asset in the Short-Term

Ryan has his doubters, but he’s also set to be the most accomplished quarterback in the NFC South in 2022. Tom Brady’s retirement leaves the Tampa Bay Buccaneers searching for answers at football’s most important position, while the New Orleans Saints still haven’t adequately replaced Drew Brees. Meanwhile, division cellar dwellers the Carolina Panthers appear unconvinced about Sam Darnold.

All signs point to Ryan having the division to himself this year. At least in theory. He’s still among the most accurate passers in the NFL, as numbers from Pro Football Focus showed last season:

Ryan’s still good enough to take the Falcons to the playoffs, but is the rest of the roster on the same level? It’s hard to make that case when there’s a lack of talent at wide receiver, along the offensive line and in the pass-rush department. Fixing those issues costs money, something the Falcons will struggle to find while carrying Ryan’s hefty contract the next two years.

The Falcons don’t need to rush any decision about Ryan, but it won’t do any harm to start putting a plan in place to make room for his replacement.