The Road Not Taken: The 2022 Atlanta Falcons Quarterbacks

Quarterback is easily the most important position in football.

In 1915, acclaimed American poet Robert Frost wrote a poem. It was four stanzas, five lines a piece. This poem intended to mock his friend Edward Thomas, another acclaimed poet, for his indecisive nature on their walks. It turned out to be one of the most influential works of its time due to its trailblazing ideas. I am sure Frost had no intentions for his work to describe anything in the realm of American football. However, when you look at the Atlanta Falcons quarterbacks going into 2022, there are some glaring similarities to the wartime literature piece.

“Poetry is play. I’d even rather have you think of it as a sport. For instance, like football”

Robert Frost

I want to give thanks to the Poetry Foundation and their in-depth analysis of Robert Frost’s work. Their detailed look at the piece helped shed even more light on my article.

Stanza One

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

General manager Terry Fontenot and the rest of the front office were at a crossroads as they entered the 2022 off-season. Do they or do they not hit the reset button for the quarterbacks for the Atlanta Falcons? This would effectively end Matt Ryan’s tenure in Atlanta. An end to 14 years of stability at the quarterback position. Would they have liked to keep Matt and have him mentor the next quarterback of the future? Sure. Matt Ryan is the consummate professional. Over his tenure, he has seen tons of defenses, blitzes, coverages, schemes, and knowledge he could pass down to the next generation of Falcons quarterbacks. But given the current deplorable state of the team, it would not have been fair to keep him while also building towards the future. Ryan deserved to win now, even if it was not in Atlanta. 

Day by day, the front office looked into the Ryan situation. They deliberated to the point of wondering if an extension of the aging quarterback was the correct decision. Give this new regime time to build a team around the long-time franchise centerpiece. But as they looked further, the front office realized they needed to look elsewhere. And just as the yellowing leaves of the alder trees in New England signified the beginnings of autumn, the pursuit of Deshaun Watson signified the end of the Matt Ryan era in Atlanta.

Stanza Two

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

According to American literary critic William Pritchard, Frost showcased how decision-making was not a matter of meditation or choice. On the contrary; decision-making is usually a matter of impulse. And sometimes, as Frost did in the latter part of the stanza, you have to learn that that impulse may not have led to the best results. 

Many in the court of public opinion would call the pursuit of Deshaun Watson an incredibly impulsive decision. As a highly controversial topic with legal implications, I will not go deeper into the subject. However, according to Ryan, this action marked the beginning of the end of his tenure as the quarterback in Atlanta.

Stanza Three

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

Frost examines his decision and realizes the finality of it. As such with all decisions, Frost decides to embrace it wholeheartedly. “Oh, I kept the first for another day!”, a declaration of decisiveness from Frost stating ‘yes, this is the decision I have chosen’ and “I doubted if I should ever come back”. 

There was no coming back. Ryan was gone and shipped out to Indianapolis. Watson had chosen to be a Cleveland Brown. And the Falcons had a void at the quarterback position that they had not seen since the turbulent, roller-coaster season of 2007. They did not have the cap space to bring in one of the top names like Russell Wilson. Not to mention they were void of the talent necessary to attract any other big names in free agency. How would the Falcons decide to fill that void?

Final Stanza

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The new era for the quarterbacks position for the Atlanta Falcons starts with yet another fork in the road. There is the veteran Marcus Mariota, the former number two overall pick that had underachieved his first go-round with Arthur Smith in Tennessee. Mariota has shown flashes of good quarterback play throughout his seven-year career but has never brought it all together as the franchise quarterback he was expected to be coming out of Oregon in 2014. He has a chance to give his career a resurgence just like Arthur Smith gave to his former teammate: Ryan Tannehill. He has the potential to be the answer in Atlanta. But his inconsistent play, coupled with an inclination for stinger-type injuries, left Atlanta with a sticky situation heading into the 2022 NFL Draft. 

In the third round, at pick 74, the second road was paved for the Atlanta Falcons. Desmond Ridder, the former Cincinnati Bearcat, was drafted as the potential future at the position. As a third-round pick, it may seem that he was no more than a consolation prize in a draft full of mid-round talent. But I believe his lower draft stock is more attributed to Terry Fontenot playing the draft game. Fontenot did not allow his want for a prospect to overweigh the flow and momentum of the draft. But make no mistake, the Falcons loved Desmond Ridder. His intangibles have jumped out to the brass in Atlanta, even impressing head coach Arthur Smith enough to comment on it in a press conference *gasp*.

The beauty of this poem is that the last stanza is not inherently positive. Frost started the stanza by saying that he is “telling this with a sigh”, can that be assumed to be a positive statement? What type of sigh is it? A deep sigh of relief that everything is going to be okay? An exasperated sigh of frustration that the decision has not panned out? Will Mariota be able to keep the job outright? Will Ridder be ready if his name is called week one? Nobody outside of the building in Flowery Branch can say for sure. But one thing is for sure. Somewhere far down the road, wherever this decision takes us, whatever direction these quarterbacks for these Atlanta Falcons takes. Falcons fans will look on this off-season and state that this one decision “has made all the difference”.

Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft: How Matt Ryan Trade Affects Plans

The Atlanta Falcons traded Matt Ryan to the Colts for the No. 82 pick in the 2022 NFL draft. His era is now over in Atlanta, but he will always be remembered as one of the greatest Falcons of all time. To replace him, they will have to look to a combination of the NFL draft and the signing of Marcus Mariota. Mariota looks like a mentor for whoever they end up drafting.

To explore what the draft could look like, we employed the Draft Network’s Mock Draft Machine to develop a realistic Atlanta Falcons mock draft scenario. General Manager Terry Fontenot has stated that he employs a Best Player Available draft strategy, but in reality, he will likely focus on finding a quarterback since he doesn’t have that franchise guy right now.

Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft

Malik Willis, first pick in this Atlanta Falcons Mock Draft
Photo Credit: G. Fiume/Getty Images

Round 1, No. 8 overall: QB Malik Willis, Liberty

Sure, the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota to start for the 2022 season. And that will be fine for until the next quarterback is ready. But they should look into someone who can not just be the guy who fits what head coach Arthur Smith likes, but be the guy who can help Smith expand his playbook.

Some guys will fit that mold in this draft later on, but if you like a guy enough to take him in the first, take him at your first round pick. We’ve done just that for this Atlanta Falcons mock draft.

The guy who truly fits the Falcons as a team, a city, and an organization is Malik Willis. He’s an Atlanta native who played at a pair of high schools in Atlanta before moving to Auburn and later on Liberty in college. He has the off-field credentials that would fit in well in with the Falcons as a leader for the locker room for years. And on-field, he has the rocket arm, exceptional mobility, and football IQ to be a premier quarterback in today’s NFL.

Malik Willis could be the long-term future in Atlanta. Photo by G. Fiume, Getty Images
Pickens would instantly be the No. 1 receiver in Atlanta. Photo by Curtis Compton, UPI

Round 2, No. 43 overall: WR George Pickens, Georgia

The Falcons currently have just 32 catches, 420 yards and three touchdowns of wide receiver production returning to the team in 2022 from their 2021 corps. The only two wide receivers of note on the Falcons current roster are Olamide Zaccheaus and Frank Darby. The signing of KhaDarel Hodge isn’t a needle-mover, either. Because of that, the Falcons should be in search of a man who can be a No. 1 wide receiver not just in on-field ability, but attitude.

George Pickens from Georgia is that guy in true form. He’s a 6-foot-3 receiver with some of the best speed in the draft. He can burn a defense deep and has the ability to go over the middle that will be needed for coach Smith’s schemes. Pickens has had some injury issues, and without those issues, he would probably be going top 10 in this draft. The Falcons should take advantage of this slip and hope he can avoid injury moving forward.

Travis Jones could be a dominant force next to Grady Jarrett. Photo by Kirby Lee, USA Today

Round 2, No. 58 overall: DL Travis Jones, Connecticut

The Falcons do have five defensive linemen on the roster now, but they could use a primary nose tackle-type to fit into the rotation with Anthony Rush, Marlon Davidson, and Ta’quon Graham. The player next to Grady Jarrett needs to be quick, strong, and large. Travis Jones fits that to a tee. He also matches the scheme defensive coordinator Dean Pees runs at the position.

Primarily someone who will eat double teams in Atlanta, Jones should open up Grady Jarrett to more one-on-one matchups with offensive linemen. Those double teams he eats should keep the linebackers behind him cleaner and the pass rushers next to him with more one-on-one matchups, as well. While an edge rusher would be helpful here, the pass rush is a multi-year project. Jones will help it more long-term than a first-year edge rusher.

Darrian Beavers is the ideal Dean Peas MIKE. Photo by Benjamin Solomon, Getty Images

Round 3, No. 74 overall: LB Darrian Beavers, Cincinnati

With the loss of Foye Oluokun, the Falcons will need someone to take over the middle linebacker role left in the void. Darrian Beavers fits in well with the Falcons’ defensive coordinator Dean Pees role at Mike. The Falcons would get a leader for their defense. Beavers understands the adversity of playing on a roster that may not be the most talented. He’ll be able to get the most out of the players around him.

Nik Bonitto (11) could be a star in Pees scheme. Photo by Tom Pennington, Getty Images

Round 3, No. 82 overall: EDGE Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma

The Falcons added to their edge room with the signing of Lorenzo Carter and addition-by-subtraction of letting Dante Fowler go. Carter and Adetekunbo Ogundeji will likely be the starters, but adding a pass rusher like Nik Bonitto to the rotation would only help. It does seem like this is a minor addition to be the direct compensation for Matt Ryan, as this was the pick gained in that trade, but Bonitto has the potential to be a vital piece of a pass rush.

Alec Lindstrom re-unites with his brother in Atlanta. Photo by AP

Round 4, No. 114 overall: OL Alec Lindstrom, Boston College

The Atlanta Falcons need to enhance the talent along the offensive line. What better way to do that than to bring in the little brother of the best offensive lineman they have? Alec Lindstrom can fit in well in the zone blocking scheme as he’s a quicker, more technical lineman. He also can play either guard or center position and allow Atlanta some competition for Matt Hennessy, Drew Dalman, Jalen Mayfield, and the rest of the interior line roster for a starting role in 2022.

Coby Bryant could be an intriguing projection. Photo by Jonathan Bachman, Getty Images

Round 5, No. 151 overall: CB/S Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

Based on the Falcons needs, bringing in someone like Coby Bryant to help the safeties room makes a lot of sense. Now that may sound a bit off because Bryant was a cornerback in college, but he was an extremely strong run defender and reliable tackler. More importantly, he was exceptional in zone coverages and a little weaker in man-to-man. The Falcons bringing in Bryant as a safety to be the free, deep defender makes sense as a projection this late.

Tyquan Thornton and George Pickens can burn defenses. Photo by Jerome Miron, USA Today

Round 6, No. 190 overall: WR Tyquan Thornton, Baylor

Because of the lack of wide receiver depth on the Falcons roster, adding another receiver in the sixth makes sense for that purpose. Tyquan Thornton was the most athletic receiver in the draft and at 6-foot-2, he has the height to help out the new quarterbacks make those throws needed in the red zone. Thornton is a bit rough around the edges as a route runner, but he fits in well with the schemes in Atlanta and can stretch the field.

Jalen Nailor could be a great fit in the slot long term. Photo by Chris Peterson, Getty Images

Round 6, No. 213 overall: WR Jalen Nailor, Michigan State

Our Atlanta Falcons mock draft ends the way it began: on offense. The slot receiver could also use an upgrade and bringing in someone like Jalen Nailor would help that depth there. Nailor has great big-play ability due to his run-after-catch ability to excel in the Falcons offense.

He will remind some of Russell Gage, but more polished as a route runner. The speed is there to torch a defense, and he’s great as a vertical receiver as well. Adding Nailor, Thornton, and Pickens would really give the Falcons larger, faster receivers to work with.

Atlanta Falcons Offseason: Breaking Down the Quarterbacks for 2022

The Atlanta Falcons have a nice baseline to work with from the 2021 season under Arthur Smith. At quarterback, there are some questions that need to be answered, but they still have their franchise quarterback in Matt Ryan.

The Atlanta Falcons have a nice baseline to work with from the 2021 season under Arthur Smith. At quarterback, there are some questions that need to be answered, but they still have their franchise guy in Matt Ryan. There are certain aspects that can’t be addressed until the draft or free agency starts, but the Falcons will able to address the salary questions right away.

Under Contract

Matt Ryan: 2 years, $92.235 million left on his contract

Feleipe Franks: 2 years, $1.775 million left on his contract

The biggest question is what the Falcons will do with Matt Ryan’s contract. The first thought here is to adjust the structure and extend the deal to make it more team friendly moving forward. While that may not seem ideal to those who are ready to get rid of the Falcons long-term franchise quarterback, it’s not going to help the Falcons for the long term to try and replace him this year.

Feleipe Franks is the only other quarterback on the roster, and his deal is essentially the minimum deal for the next two years. The Falcons could improve upon Franks as a backup in the short term. Eventually, Franks will be replaced with someone more talented and more investment.

Unrestricted Free Agents:

A.J. McCarron

Josh Rosen

A.J. McCarron played in the preseason a little, but basically wasted cap space for the season being on injured reserve. Josh Rosen was terrible in short sporadic action this season. Neither guy should be a priority to retain.

Current Need

The current need for the Falcons is for a competent backup that is actually worth a roster spot. Right now, it’s easy to see that the combination of Josh Rosen, Feleipe Franks and A.J. McCarron were lucky to never see the field in a meaningful moment of the season. By getting someone in free agency along the lines of say, Joe Flacco, Mitch Trubisky or Marcus Mariota, the Falcons could end up with a solid backup that would upgrade over the current crew.

Potential Future Need

The Falcons do need to have an eye to the future with Matt Ryan turning 37 this season. He still has the accuracy, but his arm is starting to fade with the repeated hits, and there aren’t a lot of options in the passing game. If they feel there’s the right option for Ryan’s eventual replacement in the draft, they should take him. However, this draft class is not great and may only have long-term backup options.

What the Plan Should Be Moving Forward

In short, the Atlanta Falcons should stick with Ryan until he takes that massive drop off the cliff and the line and receivers aren’t obvious problems around him. Until the decline in his play is actually obvious, Ryan is the guy. Finding a solid backup in case his ridiculously good injury luck doesn’t last should be an imperative. The 2023 and future classes look much better at quarterback, and the Falcons should find his eventual replacement then.

Preseason Preview: Week 2 Falcons @ Dolphins

Dolphins ATB and Falcons ATB break down their respective offseasons, training camp and expectations ahead of Week 2 of preseason.

Acknowledgement:

Before we delve into the game preview, I would just like to thank and credit Hunter Thompson of Falcons ATB, for his contributions and insights in putting together this preseason matchup article.

Training Camp

Q. What do you hope your team will gain from the joint practices held in Miami?

Falcons:

HT: “I hope the team really decides to step up and compete and stays tough and physical with Miami this week. I know going against new players is huge for development, so I hope we see them gain confidence and have good meaningful reps.”

Dolphins:

Heading into the joint practices with the Chicago Bears, I stated how the primary focus would be how to deal with the mobility of Justin Fields. The starting defense to a certain extent did manage to contain Fields, however never really exerted a lot of pressure with Fields having all day in the pocket never really needing to scramble. Coming into the second week of preseason, the Dolphins will face its second kryptonite; elite receiving tight ends. Facing the likes of Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst, all eyes will be on Eric Rowe and the rest of the Dolphins’ defense as to how they contain the threat that Pitts poses.

Coming out of the 2021 NFL Draft, Pitts’ NFL comparison was Darren Waller, a player that torched Eric Rowe Week 16, despite him being right on him nearly every play. Rowe v Pitts will be the biggest matchup to watch out for. Also look out for how Miami’s linebackers especially Jerome Baker looks in coverage.

Nevertheless, the receiving threat posed by the Falcons extends far beyond containing Pitts, especially with the likes of Calvin Ridley coming off the back of a 1,374 yd season where he averaged 15.3 YPC. The whole secondary will for sure be tested after a very good first week of preseason.

UPDATE: Following the first day of joint practice, the battle has been as anticipated. Thankfully for Dolphins fans, aside from the play shown above, by most accounts Eric Rowe had a fantastic day.

Highlight of the day would be where Rowe had a PBU on a touchdown pass intended for Pitts.

Q. A lot of Dolphins fans had their hearts set on Kyle Pitts, how has he performed so far?

HT: “We have yet to see Pitts play in the Falcons uniform, but based on the Training camp we’ve been hearing, he is a standout in camp. He is helping fill the hole left by Julio Jones when he got traded to Tennessee. If Pitts plays this game, look for him to take over the game if he is as good as he is being advertised. “

Fan Q. How strong is the receiving unit this season without Julio? How much involvement do you anticipate Russell Gage having this year? Is he the definite WR2?

HT: “The receiving unit without Julio will look very different. Look for the Falcons to implement a lot of two tight end looks to take advantage of having both Kyle Pitts and Hayden Hurst on the roster. And for Gage, look for him to be a potential flex option or low-end WR2 for you and your fantasy team. I think he will still be the third option, but who knows for certain.”

Preseason

Q. How did you fare Week 1 of preseason? What went well? Who stood out? What/who concerns you?

Falcons:

HT: “We lost 23-3. And it was a tough game all the way around, we struggled in the trenches on offense and only amassed 139 total yards. Nothing really on offense went well which is concerning, but the defense actually had some standouts in Ogundeji and JTM at the EDGE positions. Marlon Davidson (who is out this week) also managed to stand out in the DL department.”

Dolphins:

The Good:

Despite losing 20-13, the Dolphins started preseason very positively. Box scores in such games are largely irrelevant. The Dolphins starters and second team played very well. By the half, the Bears had barely managed a first down against a defense not featuring, Howard, Jones, Phillips or Ogbah. The offense were successful at moving the ball down field with Tua going 8/11 and 99 yards. However, Miami did struggle in the red zone, being stopped on the goal line and then the eventual pick to end Tua’s evening. Nevertheless, I would not be worried about this, as Tua has excelled in red zone drills all throughout camp.

Stand out performers include Tua (despite INT), Justin Coleman (the one man hit sticking machine, who needs to learn to wrap players up), Nik Needham, Mack Hollins, Eric Rowe, Salvon Ahmed, Jakeem Grant and Noah Igbinoghene who made some good plays, despite a rather troublesome camp.

The Bad and the Ugly:

Without sounding like too much of a broken record, the offensive line struggles exhibited during Week 1 of preseason will be the primary focus heading into Saturday’s game. Facing the Bears elite defensive line, the offensive line was decimated throughout the first day of joint practice. Despite some bounce back during the second day of practice, the offensive line remained an issue heading into the preseason debut. While the starting pass protection was fairly good, with Tua Tagovailoa complementing the line for giving him a relatively clean pocket, run blocking was almost none existent.

As Chris Spooner eluded to in his recent article, the left side of the line including Austin Jackson and Solomon Kindley was especially problematic in establishing the run. Consequently, PFF gave Kindley a 45.7 run-blocking grade while Austin Jackson graded even worse scoring a dreadful 38.1.

For a full recap of the game, go check out Tanner Elliott’s post game analysis.

Q. What are your expectations going into the game? What do you hope the team takes away from it?

Falcons:

HT: “I am going into this game with low expectations for a few different reasons. Mainly because it’s the preseason and I don’t think the game itself matters as much as meaningful reps for each player. Last week we saw a few standouts even though we as a team struggled, and that’s the biggest plus of the preseason for me. But I hope we see the offensive line step it up. Last week against the Titans the line struggled the entire game and we can’t afford two weeks of that. When the line struggles it makes the evaluation process for skill positions so much harder.”

Dolphins:

Going into the second preseason game, the main thing I hope to see is consistency. If Tua can string together another couple of good series to his depleted options at receiver, it will be a success, even against a shaky Falcons secondary. I would like to see a lot more of Jaylen Waddle in this game as a receiver, as he left week one without a catch. I would also like to see more of our pass rush in getting pressure in at the QB.

However, all eyes will be on how the offensive line performs. As aforementioned, pass blocking was relatively good during the first game. I want to see this continue with consistency while beginning to open up running lanes for the backs. The return of Liam Eichenberg can bring some optimism to fans, although I wouldn’t get your hopes up.

Q. Are there any injury concerns affecting the team heading into the game?

Falcons:

HT: “I don’t really have any major concerns coming in, I’d like to see Marlon Davidson playing in the game, but it is what it is.”

Dolphins:

In contrast with that of Atlanta, Miami’s situation is a lot more tenuous, especially at wide receiver. As I stated in a previous article when healthy the Dolphins have an elite receiving threat, however we are yet to see it. Coming into the first day of joint practice, the following receivers were missing:

In addition, Preston Williams remains on PUP and Allen Hurns has been placed on IR.

While availability for a preseason game is not a big issue for the likes of Parker and Fuller, until those players are on the field we will not see the full capability of this offense. With the offensive line woes many people have questioned the decision to pass on Penei Sewell. However, with the options at receiver now, thank god for Jaylen Waddle.

Outside of the receiving room Jaelan Phillips returned to practice this week, but given his value, he will be brought back form injury very slowly, making him an outsider to feature heavily in the second preseason game. Liam Eichenberg, Brandon Jones and Ogbah have all returned to practice this week. Rookie TE Hunter Long has been dressed for practice, but has not participated in team drills due to ongoing pain stifling his return.

Q. Which player on the other team scares you the most?

Falcons:

HT: “Jaylen Waddle. 100%. His explosiveness is concerning for the young defense we are going to be fielding.”

Dolphins:

Calvin Ridley no doubt. His route running is truly elite and one of the most technically gifted receivers in the game. Any one who can torch Xavien Howard the way he did in camp, deserves fearing.

Q. What are your expectations going into the season?

Falcons:

HT: “We are at a weird point where we are retooling the roster while still trying to be competitive, which looks strange. But looking at what we did in the draft and how some of those picks are playing we are running a pretty decent first offseason under the new regime. But that also makes this conversation difficult because no one really knows what to expect from this current roster. Some fans are expecting a playoff push, while others are expecting another top 10 draft pick.”

Dolphins:

Dolphins fans you will just have to keep your eyes peeled for the Dolphins ATB staff’s expectations and season prediction article in the coming weeks.

Conclusion

Once again I would like to thank Hunter for his help and insights throughout this article. Be sure to go follow him on Twitter. Many have predicted this game to be the “dress rehearsal” for the season with the final game intended for those players on the edge of the roster. As such expect Tua to get more reps and thus hopefully more highlights for us fans to revel over until the season. Fins Up!

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