With the 2022 NFL Draft in the books and Free Agency mostly wrapped up, we can turn our attention to the upcoming season. Throughout the off-season, I’ll be looking at some position groups that featured new additions and could have a new look come September. I’m continuing this journey in Atlanta, where the Falcons have to solve the quarterback puzzle. Marcus Mariota landed there this off-season, with Desmond Ridder joining the party in the draft. Who is the better value? Let’s explore.
The 2021 Falcons Quarterback Room
The Falcons didn’t have an incredible 2021 season, but the team didn’t have to wonder who would be under center. For new coach Arthur Smith, it was veteran Matt Ryan at quarterback. Ryan was taken in the First Round of the 2008 NFL Draft, where he’s been entrenched as the starting QB ever since. Despite missing Calvin Ridley most of the season and having Julio Jones in Tennessee, Ryan still had a decent season. He threw 560 times, completing 375 for 3,968 yards and 20 touchdowns. That was good enough to be QB20 in fantasy, too.
The Falcons finished the season 7-10, out of the playoffs, and with a Top 10 pick. With the team needing to start a re-building process, the Falcons dealt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts this off-season, creating a whole under center. The team soon signed veteran Mariota and spent the No. 10 pick in the Third Round on Ridder. Now, it’s a question of who fills Ryan’s slot.
The Veteran and the Rookie
Mariota was once a top pick, taken 1.02 by the Tennessee Titans in 2015. He played his five-year rookie contract out with Tennessee, going 29-32 during that time, completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 13,207 yards and 76 touchdowns. During the 2019 season, he struggled and was replaced by Ryan Tannehill, who took the Titans to the playoffs. Mariota signed with the Raiders in the off-season and spent two years behind Derek Carr. His signing with Atlanta figured to be a second chance.
It also reunites him with Smith, who was on staff with the Titans throughout his tenure in Tennessee. Smith was the TE coach when Mariota was drafted but was promoted to Offensive Coordinator in 2019, Mariota’s final season with the team. He figures to understand the system and have some rapport with Smith.
But Mariota isn’t the only option in Atlanta. Ridder was the second quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft despite going in the Third Round. He also seemed to be one of the most pro-ready prospects. He started for four years at Cincinnati, averaging 62.1 percent completions with 10,239 yards and 87 touchdowns. He gives the Falcons a young prospect waiting in the wings who could well be part of the 2022 starting equation.
The 2022 Falcons Quarterback Room
Mariota and Ridder figure to be the focus for the team and fans during the pre-season. The Falcons also have second-year man Feleipe Franks on the roster, but it is likely the starting job comes down to the rookie and the veteran. Both have the potential to lead a Falcons team that will enter the 2022 season with little expectations. But who can guide the offense for Smith?
The Falcons’ offense is a work in progress. Ridley will miss the entire 2022 season after being suspended by the league. The team still has second-year tight end Kyle Pitts, a rising star, and spent the eighth overall pick on USC receiver Drake London. That gives whoever gets the job a few weapons. The Falcons also traded a 2023 Fifth Round pick to the Raiders for Bryan Edwards and a Seventh Round pick, giving the team another receiver. The Falcons also have a backfield led by Cordarrelle Patterson, who caught 52 passes in 2021.
I think it’s Mariota in Week 1. He signed a two-year deal with the Falcons, with the first year being relatively cap friendly. I think the team envisions him as a bridge, at least to start, for a team that doesn’t’ figure to be in the playoff race. Mariota has talent, and it’s great to see him get a second shot. But if Ridder looks good in the pre-season, it’s likely a short leash. The Falcons undoubtedly will want to know what they have before heading into the next off-season, possibly with Ridley back and a better salary cap situation. I suspect both will play this season for the Falcons, giving them both appeal in Superflex.
Matthew Fox is a member of the FSWA. He’s a die-hard NFL Fan and Broncos’ homer. You can find more from him on Twitter @knighthawk7734 and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a part of the Campus2Canton Network.