Do the Atlanta Falcons have a quarterback dilemma?

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota prepares to throw a pass during a preseason game against the New York Jets.
Photo Credit: USATSI

The Atlanta Falcons have started the season off to a 2-2 start (should probably be 3-1, but who’s counting?). This has surprised many fans and media members who expected the Falcons to be one of the worst teams in the NFL. It’s been a different look for the Falcons this season as they have been carried from a powerful rushing attack lead by journeyman running back Cordarrelle Patterson who has quickly become a fan favorite in Atlanta.

As much as there is to talk about in terms of the running game, that hasn’t been the talking point of most Falcons Twitter pundits. The biggest point of conversation for the Falcons has been the lackluster quarterback play. Many expected drop off in the quarterback position when the Falcons chose to move on from Falcons legend Matt Ryan.

Under Matt Ryan’s leadership at the quarterback position the Falcons were consistently one of the top passing attacks ranked in the top 10 in passing yards almost every season. But that era has come in gone and many people were hesitant about the Falcons quarterback plans moving forward.

The Falcons went and signed Marcus Mariota to a two-year, $18.5 million deal to be a bridge quarterback while the Falcons looked for the heir to the throne. Mariota has been pretty average according to some metrics; per ESPN and PlayerProfiler, Mariota is:

  • Passer Rating of 91.5 (ESPN)
  • Adjusted QB Rating of 49.6 for 15th in the league (ESPN)
  • RAW QB Rating of 48.6 for 17th in the league (ESPN)
  • Completion Percentage of 58.2% (ESPN)
  • PAA is -0.4 for 17th in the league(ESPN)
  • EPA is 12.2 for 20th in the league (ESPN)
  • He’s thrown five “interceptable” passes for 23rd in the league (PlayerProfiler)
  • True Completion Percentage of 63.3% for 29th in the league (PlayerProfiler)
  • Clean Pocket Completion Percentage of 65.7 for 23rd in the league (PlayerProfiler)

That’s not even counting his seven turnovers this season which is good for second in the league only behind former Falcon Matt Ryan. None of these stats are acceptable for a long-term plan at the quarterback position in today’s NFL when elite quarterbacks are what bring you championships.

The Falcons don’t have to purely rely on Marcus Mariota though, they do have another quarterback on roster who some are calling for to be named the starter. And that is rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder, the Falcons third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

What are the traits that would make a third round rookie better than an experienced starter? The advocates for Ridder argue that he’s just as, if not better than, the level of play that the Falcons are currently receiving from Marcus Mariota. Some point to Ridder’s collegiate production which is one of the best collegiate careers of recent history.

In Ridder’s collegiate career he went above and beyond to help put Cincinnati on the map. Furthermore, he led the Bearcats to the College Football playoff as the first ever Group of Five school. During that time, Ridder also established himself as a perennial winner at Cincinnati with a 44-6 record ( 26-0 at home).

His senior year stat line? 3,334 yards 30 TD’s and eight interceptions with another 355 yards and six scores on the ground. Ridder showed in college that he has skillset that works and wins in similar ways to Mariota. So why isn’t Ridder starting? Coming into the draft, it seemed that Ridder struggled with some mechanical aspects, but the preseason showed some improvement. Alas, it seems the Falcons are in no rush to bring in the rookie, meticulously planning his development.

But what is that plan that the Falcons have for their quarterback position? Should they keep rolling out Mariota for the rest of the season while in the middle of a potential playoff push even with below average quarterback play? Do they risk throwing the team out of rhythm with a rookie? These are the questions that are being asked and leads me to ask:

Do the Atlanta Falcons have a quarterback dilemma?

What should the Atlanta Falcons expect from Marcus Mariota?

With the Falcons officially beginning a new era, what should the front office and fans think of the primary man leading the charge?

The Atlanta Falcons are in uncharted waters. For the first time since 2008, Matthew Thomas Ryan is no longer the team’s quarterback. After losing out on the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes, the Falcons traded Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts on March 21st 2022 for a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Subsequently, that turned into rookie EDGE DeAngelo Malone.

Every Falcons fans has their own opinions about the decision to move on from the veteran signal caller. But now, the question is: what’s next for the Falcons?

New Sheriff in Town: Marcus Mariota

In the aftermath, the Falcons turned around and signed veteran journeyman quarterback and former first round pick Marcus Mariota. Mariota, a former Raider and Titan was one of the bigger names on the quarterback market this offseason. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith has familiarity with Mariota, who went on to lose his starting job to current Titans starter Ryan Tannehill in 2019 while Smith was the offensive coordinator.

After leaving the Titans in 2020, Mariota then became the backup quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders under Derek Carr. There, he seemed to re-establish himself as the quarterback he wants to be. Mariota has previously stated “I know that I have an opportunity to get better and work with a really awesome offensive staff. I’ll be able to grow in that sense. So at the end of the day, my goal is always to be a starter and to be successful at it. I’m working towards that.”

Mariota, the former Heisman winner, is bringing that mindset of always wanting to get better and be successful to a roster in Atlanta that is in the midst of a rebuild. The franchise’s direction is changing after trading the franchise’s top two players in consecutive years.

But what does Mariota bring to the new look Falcons roster as their newest starting quarterback? Outside of Mariota’s familiarity with Smith and his offense, he brings a skillset that is very different from Ryan’s. Mariota is much more of the modern mold of quarterback that teams are looking for.

Mariota’s Dual-Threat Capabilities are Intriguing

In this play above, Marcus Mariota keeps the read option himself for a large gain on the ground. That is something the Falcons haven’t been able to do since Mike Vick was the quarterback. In today’s NFL, teams are using quarterbacks as more than just pocket passers; Mariota lets the play calling get more creative and gives Arthur Smith the freedom to call the offense he wants.

Here is another play of the Raiders relying on Mariota’s legs to make a play with another read option. Against Dallas, he breaks around the edge to scamper in for the touchdown. The way that Vegas factored in Mariota’s legs into the game plan is a way that the Falcons might choose to mimic.

Even looking at this play above from current Titans starter, Ryan Tannehill, Smith as a play caller likes to incorporate concepts that let a quarterback show off his legs if he has the ability.

But Mariota isn’t strictly a running quarterback; the former Heisman winner has the ability to sling it as a passer.

In this play above, Mariota does a great job of maintaining his poise in the pocket under pressure from the Chargers defense and delivers a bomb to Waller in stride for the touchdown.

Here, Mariota goes again hitting Pitts in stride in a similar fashion during training camp, leading the target down the sideline for what would have been a big gain if it were live.

What is Mariota’s Ceiling for the Atlanta Falcons?

As a pure player, Marcus Mariota is bringing a skillset that will bring a new energy to the team. Furthermore, it gives Arthur Smith the ability to open up the play calling to introduce some new creativity. Creativity that the team was lacking last season.

But one of the biggest things that the Falcons should expect to see? A tough player who is respected by his teammates and viewed as a leader during this rebuild. An example of that is above; Mariota throws his body on the line against the Chargers to tie the game late.

Mariota feels like the type of guy who will embrace this team and embrace this fanbase. He is one of the most notable “nice guys” of the NFL and has always been loved and respected by his fans and his teammates. In the clip above you see Mariota take time to just hang out with a fan before the game. It isn’t long, it isn’t anything major but you know an interaction like that will leave a lasting impression. And that is what being a fan favorite is about.

He isn’t Matt Ryan, he will never be Matt Ryan, but Mariota is a guy who is going to be great for the team and for the locker room. He brings a different skillset and demeanor to the fold, and that isn’t a bad thing for the rebuilding Falcons.

Follow @Falcons_ATB on Twitter for more Falcons content.

Should the Atlanta Falcons trade for Bears OT Teven Jenkins?

Photo Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Training Camp has officially started back, and with that all kinds of rumors and stories have already started. One of the more recent rumors is that the Bears are already looking to move on from the second year offensive tackle who they drafted from Oklahoma State in 2021. As of now, there are no rumors of teams who have been in contact with the Bears. However, there is one team that should absolutely be in on the former second round pick, Teven Jenkins: the Atlanta Falcons.

Falcons Offensive Line Woes

The Falcons offensive line was ranked 27th by PFF after the 2021 season and could benefit from potential reinforcements along the offensive line. One of the weakest aspects of the offensive line for the Falcons is right tackle, where fourth-year veteran and former first round pick Kaleb McGary has yet to establish himself as anything more than a stop-gap solution with the Falcons declining McGary’s fifth-year option.

Photo Credit: https://www.atlantafalcons.com/

To add fuel to the fire, McGary’s PFF grade was a 62.8 in 2021 while giving up 9 sacks over 986 snaps played. McGary graded out with a 50.6 PFF grade in the pass blocking category which was below average. However, he scored a 72.2 PFF grade in the run blocking category, which adds a little worth.

Teven Jenkins Could Help the Falcons…Eventually

On the other side, Teven Jenkins was a fan favorite of many in the NFL draft community for the 2021 draft, but has struggled to live up to the hype that he had. His rookie season was hampered heavily by a back injury that included a surgery which caused him to miss most of his rookie season. Even when the rookie could get on the field, the Bears chose to play him at left tackle as opposed to his normal right tackle position.

Jenkins did not fair much better than McGary in terms of PFF grades with Jenkins scoring a 47.5 during his limited 160 snaps played, with 2 sacks allowed. Which is much worse than McGary, but one thing that impacts Jenkins market is that he would be under team control for a longer period of time, with more potential to improve and build on those traits that teams loved when he was a prospect.

Will a Trade Happen?

Between the Falcons already showing this off-season that they aren’t afraid to pickup a reclamation project — or two — with the additions of Bryan Edwards and Rashaan Evans from Las Vegas and Tennessee; and the Bears-to-Falcons pipeline running strong this offseason with multiple additions from Chicago coming to Atlanta, it almost feels like a move that will happen. Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are attempting to reload the Falcons roster while maintaining the ability to stay competitive. Teven Jenkins could be a good step in that direction for the Falcons.

What do you think Falcons fans? Should the dirty birds attempt to trade for the Bears potential draft bust? Let us know @falcons_atb on Twitter!

Atlanta Falcons roster: Projecting the 53 Players

Photo Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

It’s clear the Atlanta Falcons roster is in a massive overhaul. Losing Matt Ryan was tough, but now the page gets turned. We’re getting closer to finding out the final 53-man roster as training camp battles heat up. With that in mind, here are my projections for what the Falcons roster will look like Week 1 of the regular season.

QB’s (2)

Marcus Mariota

Desmond Ridder

RB’s (3)

Damien Williams

Caleb Huntley

Ty Allgeier

Offensive Utility Players (2)

Cordarrelle Patterson (RB/WR)

Feleipe Franks (QB/TE)

WR’s (5)

Drake London

Bryan Edwards

Olamide Zaccheaus

Auden Tate

Frank Darby

TE’s (4)

Kyle Pitts

Anthony Firkser

John FitzPatrick

Parker Hesse

FB (1)

Keith Smith

OL (9)

Jake Matthews

Jalen Mayfield

Matt Hennessy

Drew Dalman

Chris Lindstrom

Kaleb McGary

Colby Gossett

Justin Schaffer

Germain Ifedi

DL/EDGE (9)

Grady Jarrett

Arnold Ebiketie

Lorenzo Carter

Ade Ogundeji

DeAngelo Malone

Vincent Taylor

Anthony Rush

Ta’Quon Graham

Marlon Davidson

LB (4)

Mykal Walker

Troy Anderson

Rashaan Evans

Nick Kwiatkowski

CB (6)

AJ Terrell

Casey Hayward Jr.

Isaiah Oliver

Darren Hall

Teez Tabor

Dee Alford

SAF’s (4)

Erik Harris

Richie Grant

Dean Marlowe

Jaylinn Hawkins

Specialists (3)

Younghoe Koo (K)

Liam McCullough (LS)

Seth Vernon (P)

Notes:

  • Deion Jones is missing, I expect him to be traded to create cap relief. Especially after the Jeff Schultz report of “If Jones had a leadership presence for younger players, the team could justify keeping him in 2022. But he has been anything but that.” Could the Falcons keep a fifth linebacker if they were to move on from Jones? Absolutely. However with Nate Landman and Kuony Deng being added as UDFA’s I expect one of them to be on the practice squad in case of emergencies.
  • Yes, six CB’s. I personally feel that the defensive back group as a whole would benefit from keeping Teez Tabor who has shown the versatility to play both CB and Safety at the NFL level.
  • Personally feel that there will only be five WR’s on roster because I expect Cordarrelle Patterson to really contribute in more of an offensive weapon role as opposed to being the main bell cow at the RB position. As the season went on Patterson’s touches came more from the receiving position than they had all season, and I expect that trend to continue with the additions of Ty Allgeier and Damien Williams who should hopefully be able to help shoulder the responsibilities of RB1 for this coming season.
  • Looking at the roster, I’d love to see them add a veteran offensive lineman to help bolster the offensive line and support the run game, veterans like JC Tretter or Nick Easton would be ideal but any solid vet would be appreciated.

What are your thoughts on my roster projection? Let me know!

Follow me on Twitter @hthompsonNFL

Falcons Dueling Mock Draft: Beginning of a New Era

The Falcons have hit a new era. No more Julio Jones, no more Matt Ryan, Calvin Ridley is suspended for a year, and Foye Oluokun and Russell Gage have left in free agency. The roster is in the process of a long, drawn out overhaul. The Falcons have added some nice quality veteran free agents in guys like Casey Hayward and Lorenzo Carter but need more. So here we have some of the Falcons ATB contributors going at it to see who can create the best Falcons mock draft to kick-start the new era.

Hunter’s Falcons Mock Draft (@hthompsonNFL)

Pick 8: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt

I get it, this pick isn’t popular and I know quarterback is a bit of a sore subject at the moment. But hear me out at least. The Falcons can’t expect to compete with Mariota at quarterback. Pickett gives the Falcons a pro-ready QB who was a Heisman finalist in 2022.

He fits what Arthur Smith and the offense wants to do. Pickett is an accurate quarterback who posses the ability to run and pick apart the middle of the defense, perfect for what Smith wants between his time with Tannehill and Mariota in Tennessee.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, NDSU

Yes, we have added a new franchise QB and now we are adding a future star at the wide position. There is a real possibility that Christian Watson isn’t here come draft day, but he was so I had to pick him over some other guys.

Watson is a freak athlete who is 6’4″ 208lbs and runs a 4.36. He is also a guy who can take over games and become a dominant freak as a WR1 for Atlanta. Watson is a YAC Daddy who creates explosive plays anytime the ball is in his hands. Bonus points that Watson has no fear as a blocker. Smith and company will love that.

Pick 58: Travis Jones, NT, UConn

The Falcons add another freak athlete here who can be an immediate plug-and-play within the defense. Yes, the Falcons re-signed Anthony Rush. Don’t let that stop you from getting better.

Travis Jones is a monster at the nose tackle spot and would pair very well with Grady Jarrett on the line. Jones is a powerful and fluid athlete who is a plug in the run game and can help collapse the pocket and free the edges and Grady.

Pick 74: James Cook, RB, UGA

The Falcons brought back Cordarrelle Patterson and added Damien Williams to the backfield, but neither is the future. James Cook would be the future-type of back for the Falcons. Cook is incredibly explosive with the ball in his hands as a runner and receiver and would thrive in Arthur Smith’s zone scheme.

Pick 82: Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss

The Falcons are back to bolstering the defense with this pick of the mock draft. Ole Miss EDGE Sam Williams is a massive talent that I think is a steal here. He struggles a bit in run defense, but man his pass rush arsenal is NICE. Williams is a violent pass rusher who uses his variety of moves to generate pressure and create sacks. Williams ended the 2021 season with 12.5 sacks.

Pick 114: Brian Asamoah, LB, Oklahoma

The Falcons lost Foye Oluokun in free agency to the Jacksonville Jaguars and need to bolster the linebacker room. At the moment it looks like incumbents Deion Jones and Mykal Walker will be the starters, but it never hurts to gain a player to compete with him.

Brian Asamoah is a high energy player who has incredible sideline-to-sideline speed and could step into a special teams role early and develop into a potential starter.

Pick 151: Alex Wright, EDGE, UAB

Falcons double dip on EDGE here with UAB’s Alex Wright. The 6’7″ 260lbs freak is a long, powerful pass rusher who has the tools to potentially develop into a starter. He is similar to Ade Ogundeji in a lot of ways and can add depth to the Falcons EDGE group.

Wright isn’t necessarily a need, but he gives the Falcons another dart throw at the EDGE position, which has been lacking since 2014 when John Abraham left.

Pick 190: Cordell Volson, OT, NDSU

The Falcons have question marks across the offensive line. Former first round pick Kaleb McGary has had mixed reviews during his tenure in Atlanta, and here we have the Falcons drafting a tackle to hopefully push McGary. Or at least become a good swing tackle going forward.

Volson has a good frame at 6’6″ 315lbs and is a multi-year starter. The jump from talent might pose an issue for Volson because he isn’t a dominant athlete or have great technique, but he is a guy worth taking a flier on late who can potentially strengthen some OL depth.

Pick 213: Jordan Stout, P, Penn State

Yes, it’s a punter. The Falcons have been down bad at punter for awhile now, until the ageless wonder Thomas Morstead saved the special teams. As great as Morstead is, he is 36 and not getting any younger. So here the Falcons select Penn State Punt God, Jordan Stout.

Stout has a dominant leg that excels both in the punt game and the kickoff game. While at the Senior Bowl, we watched Stout blasting 75+ yard kickoffs out the back of the end zone into the stands in the pouring rain. And I know that might not be enough to convince some, but hitting a guy in the 6th round who might develop into the best at his position is always a win.

Damski’s Falcons Mock Draft (@Damski32)

Pick 8: Travon Walker, EDGE, UGA

Travon Walker offers massive upside and an athletic freak. I think he has a ways to go as a pass rusher, but the size, strength, and ability vs the run gives you a heck of an EDGE prospect year one.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, NDSU

Christian Watson represents a lot of what Arthur Smith wants to do offensively. Good on crossers, can be a good deep ball wide receiver, and be a good YAC wide receiver. Heck of a pick for ATL here.

Pick 58: Christian Harris, LB, Alabama

Christian Harris is the perfect scheme fit for what Dean Pees wants to do defensively. Gap discipline, physical, and can give you something as a blitzer coming down hill. Love the player, love the fit. One pick that I do hope happens.

Pick 74: Travis Jones, NT, UConn

Travis Jones making it this far is wild, but I’m definitely all-in on him being the NT in our 3-man fronts. Dude is an ox and is super tough to move off the ball. I think he’d be a really good scheme fit, even in our under fronts!

Pick 82: Drake Jackson, EDGE, USC

Drake Jackson for me is a really good sleeper in this class. Flashes lots of bendiness, but also offers some above-average hand play. Combine him doing stunts off the EDGE with Jones, Grady Jarrett, and Walker and you got a ton of mismatches.

Pick 114: WanDale Robinson, WR, Kentucky

WanDale Robinson is just another weapon for the offense. A guy who can take the top off of a defense, but also be a contributor on screens and crossers. I think Robinson would be a fun wrinkle to the O for Arthur Smith

Pick 151: Jerome Ford, RB, Cincinnati

Jerome Ford is a physical runner from Cincy who is really good on one cut and go runs, has surprising speed in the open field, but does want to run through you. I think this late he represents really good value.

Pick 190: Issac Taylor-Stuart, CB, USC

Isaac Taylor-Stuart is an atheltic specimen at the cornerback position who has an incredible athletic profile. Taylor-Stuart is only going to go up from here at this point in his career. Definitely worth a flier at this point.

Pick 213: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

Charlie Kolar is a very standard TE. Solid blocker who doesn’t wow you with his physical traits. He uses his frame and size to work crossers and seams in the passing game. And his 6’6″ frame also helps Kolar become a major red zone threat.

Kenny G’s Falcons Mock Draft (@Gritz_Blitz)

Pick 8: Kayvon Thibodeaux, EDGE, Oregon

Have you heard that Kayvon is lazy, selfish, and a bad teammate? Blah, blah, blah. When I watch KT play, I see one of the few blue chip players in this class. He has an insane first step and a rare blend of physicality and athleticism. There’s double-digit sack potential written all over Thibodeaux. His ceiling is sky high, and the Falcons would select him with the idea that he’d be the face of the future defense.

Pick 43: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota St.

6’4”, 208lbs, 4.36 40 yard dash. You sold yet? Christian Watson is one of the most explosive players in this draft class. He’s a complete receiver who has all the makings of a future number one target. Watson offers a lot of juice to the receiving corps, and could give Arthur Smith the big-play threat his offense so desperately needs.

Pick 58: Travis Jones, DT, UConn

Travis Jones is a mammoth of a man who can be the force in the middle of a defense for years to come. He’s got a club move that’ll knock you silly, and offers real pass rush upside not often found in players his size. He’d slide in as Dean Pees’ starting nose tackle and force opposing offenses to double him.

Pick 74: Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin

A thickly-built player who measured 6’2” and weighed in at 261lbs, Leo Chenal is one of the most physical linebackers I’ve seen in some time. He’s a sound tackler who’s quick to diagnose plays and shoots gaps like he’s being fired out of a cannon.

His run stuffing ability would be welcome in Atlanta after some of the LB play we saw last season. Chenal is a three down LB who’d be a leader on this team from day one.

Pick 82: James Cook, RB, Georgia

I wasn’t going to take a running back — until I imagined having both James Cook and Cordarrelle Patterson on the field at the same time. Selecting Cook gives the Falcons yet another versatile young play-maker. He can line up in the backfield, in the slot, or even out wide. James will find a way to make plays no matter what position he’s playing.

Pick 114: Sam Williams, EDGE, Ole Miss

Double dipping in this edge class offers so much potential for a team in dire need of a pass rush. Do you know what pairing Sam Williams with KT could do for our edge group? In the words of MJ, “The ceiling is the roof.”

Williams tested like a crazy athlete, running a 4.46 at 261lbs, and you see the burst on tape. Adding a pass rusher this explosive in the 4th round feels like tremendous value.

Pick 151: Coby Bryant, CB, Cincinnati

The Falcons need more help at corner, and while Bryant may be getting a bit overshadowed by Sauce, make no mistake: Coby can ball. The 2022 Thorpe Award winner has the size and athleticism to develop into a starter after playing behind Casey Hayward for a year or two.

Pick 190: Charlie Kolar, TE, Iowa State

The Falcons previously met with Charlie Kolar and attended his pro day. Atlanta needs tight end depth, and Kolar has potential to develop into a future Y tight end who can complement Pitts well. He’s a bit raw, but has great size, good hands, and is a willing blocker in the run game.

Pick 213: Tyquan Thornton, WR, Baylor

SPEED! You can’t have enough of it, and nobody offers more of it than Thornton. He ran a blazing 4.28 40-yard dash. He’s got a thin frame, but he’s tall and plays strong enough to beat press on the outside. Tyquan would be a legit deep threat from day one and has potential as a future starter.

Check out our previous Falcons mock draft pieces on atbnetwork.com and be sure to choose a winner for this version of dueling mocks!