Thursday, February 22, 2024

Do the Atlanta Falcons have a plan at QB1?

Having traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts the Atlanta Falcons inked Marcus Mariota and then selected Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder in the third round of the NFL Draft. Ridder may have been the second QB taken but in a draft that was notoriously weak at the QB position is he the long-term solution will Mariota get a decent shot as the longterm solution?

Mariota was signed to a 2-year $18.75-million deal with just $6.75-million guaranteed in March, likely with a view to mentoring a rookie QB in 2022 or 2023. While 2023 is definitely a deeper QB class, getting Ridder in the third round is definitely good value, and also allows the Falcons time to bring him along slowly.

But waiting until the third round really begs the question of how highly the Atlanta Falcons rate the young signal-caller. Bleacher Report comp’ed him to Dan Prescott, while others compared him to Marcus Mariota. The synergies of having the rookie understudy under his pro-comp were likely not lost on the Falcons, all GM Terry Fontenot said it didn’t factor into the decision on a recent PFT appearance.

“I wouldn’t say that that was a part of the consideration,” Fontenot said. “I would say we just evaluated the player, but it is cool to look at the quarterback room right now. There’s not many quarterback rooms that look like that with Marcus and Desmond and also Feleipe Franks. I mean, they look good coming off the bus. Some big, athletic guys. But again, they’re all really good human beings as well.”

And while Fontenot also said the QB position is an open competition is one of these guys the solution or the stop-gap?


One of the good things about Marcus Mariota is that the Atlanta Falcons know he’s a good, team guy. He didn’t throw tantrums when the Titans brought in Ryan Tannehill, or when he was backup in Vegas. So although he likely signed with the expectation of starting, he knows, in all likelihood, he will be expected to groom the next new shiny QB. Whether he expected that to be in 2022 is another matter.

But what does Mariota bring the Atlanta Falcons on a good day? Drafted the same year as Jameis Winston, his career has followed a similar up-and-down trajectory and they have both suffered from an insane amount of turnover issues.

*Winston averages a TO every 36.4 snaps, while Mariota has one every 38.6 snaps

While some of Mariota’s decline can be potentially attributed to an amazing list of injuries, particularly in his appalling 2018 season, the level of turnovers is something that has plagued him constantly as he tries to take every inch available. While noble, it means more injuries and more turnovers, and ultimately hurts his team.

The problem with Desmond Ridder is that he has a lot of those same traits, racking up 64 turnovers, including 36 fumbles in his 3,108 college snaps. Giving him a turnover every 48.5 plays. Is that something that can be trained out of him at the NFL level? Possibly. But is it likely to happen with a QB ahead of him who has exactly the same traits?

Where Desmond Ridder offers the Atlanta Falcons potential growth is in his improving deep passing. PFF graded him the 6th best QB in 2022 on long passes with a 96.0 grade with no turnover worthy plays in 73 attempts. He was the only QB who attempted more than 50 deep passes to have no TWP’s out of 65 qualifying QB’s. That was up from a 76.4 grade in 2021 (31/47). So the development has been there, and now needs to continue.

What we do know, is that unless Marcus Mariota solves this problem in 2022 he likely won’t return in 2023 thanks to a $2.5-million dead cap number (per spotrac). Given Mariota’s injury issues Ridder will almost certainly getting a good look in 2022 regardless of how Mariota plays, and that could determine the future of the Falcons QB position.

Ridder has a lot of the tools to make a plus-starter in the NFL. But his decision making, and ability to keep the ball out of the hands of the defence, will likely be his number one issue. He’d probably be best served by sitting a year behind Mariota, but as noted that is unlikely even if that is the plan.

But this whole situation looks like the Atlanta Falcons are on a wing and a prayer in 2022. It seems like Desmond Ridder lasting to the third round was the main reason they picked him, rather than them necessarily believing he is the long term answer.

Now it will be up to Ridder to prove he’s the guy when he takes the field, and make sure the Atlanta Falcons don’t take another QB in 2023.

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