Falcons Passer Ranked in Bottom Tier of NFC Quarterbacks

Marcus Mariota

Getty The Atlanta Falcons' likely starter is ranked near the bottom of the NFC's QBs.

Matt Ryan ensured quarterback was a position of strength for the Atlanta Falcons for 14 seasons, but it’s all change after the 37-year-old was traded to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.

Now the Falcons are in a state of flux at football’s most important position. Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder are the prime candidates to replace Ryan in 2022.

It means the Falcons will either hand the reins to a player who has been a backup the last two seasons or to an untested rookie. Not surprisingly, one of those quarterbacks doesn’t rank too highly among the likely starting passers in the NFC.

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In fact, one NFL writer has ranked the probable starter for the Falcons in the bottom tier of quarterbacks in the conference.

Mariota Sharing Space at the Foot of the Rankings

In his ranking of all 16 de facto starters for NFC teams, Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports put Mariota alongside Geno Smith of the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers’ QB Sam Darnold.

This questionable trio prop up Benjamin’s rankings. He offered the following reasons for putting Mariota at the bottom: “And Mariota, while elusive with starting experience, has struggled to stay consistently healthy or successful through the air, and he’ll be working with a roster in total overhaul.”

Benjamin’s argument is a reasonable one since the Falcons are still firmly in rebuild mode. The talent around Mariota isn’t the strongest, although there are weaker supporting casts around the league. It’s also true Mariota has never completed a full season in the pros.

If there’s a greater concern, it’s that Mariota hasn’t entered a season as his team’s starter since 2019. Then he was with the Tennessee Titans and under the watchful eye of offensive coordinator and future Falcons head coach Arthur Smith.

Mariota lost his job to Ryan Tannehill on Smith’s watch. It was the low point for a player drafted second overall by the Titans in 2015, but one who has spent the last two years as backup for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Recent history suggests Mariota will struggle to get his career back on track in Atlanta, but dig a little deeper and the raw tools are still there for him to succeed. Mariota has playoff experience, having guided the Titans to the postseason and a wild-card victory on the road over the Kansas City Chiefs following the 2017 season.

He made some spectacular plays, including this bizarre scoring pass and catch at Arrowhead Stadium:

Mariota won early with the Titans because of his dual-threat talents. He entered the league as a read-option specialist able to beat defenses with his arm or legs.

His ability as a runner didn’t deteriorate while Mariota warmed the bench for the Raiders. This touchdown from a Wildcat formation against the Dallas Cowboys last season offered ample proof of Mariota’s enduring threat on the ground:

Plays like this one are a reminder of what Mariota brings to the field. It’s also a reason why he can prove the detractors wrong this season.

Mariota Has Supporting Cast to Rebound

There’s enough of the right framework around Mariota to believe he can rebound with the Falcons. First, the talent at the skill positions is better than many think.

Tight end Kyle Pitts topped 1,000 yards and set records as a rookie in 2021. He’s a roving matchup nightmare for defenses, and Pitts should draw coverage away from wide receiver Drake London, the eight-overall pick and first wideout taken in this year’s draft.

Mariota’s backfield options will remain strong after Cordarrelle Patterson returned in free agency. Last season’s leading rusher is a versatile weapon, but he’ll get more support this term thanks to the arrivals of Damien Williams and Jeremy McNichols, two veterans who are capable on the ground and catching passes.

McNicholas, like Mariota, played for Smith in Tennessee. Familiarity with the coach and his system is a boost for any player, especially the signal-caller.

Mariota recently explained to Maria Martin of 11Alive News how “it’s nice to have Art’, you know, somebody that I’ve been around.”

Assuming Smith finds a way to let Mariota play to his strengths, things will look a lot better than expected for the Falcons’ offense. He may only be a bridge option until Ridder, Atlanta’s third-round pick this year, is ready to start, but Mariota has enough of what he needs to make the transition a successful one.

If Mariota doesn’t succeed, it won’t be because of a lack of talent around him.