After a third losing season, Atlanta finds themselves, yet again, picking within the Top 10 of the Draft. The 2017 season seems a distant memory, coming straight off the back of a Super Bowl loss and propelling back into the postseason, winning a playoff game in the process. For the first time since Matt Ryan was drafted with the No.3 overall pick in 2008, the Falcons now have a top 5 pick at their disposal. The key question is: which direction do they go?
PLAN FOR THE FUTURE, OR WIN NOW?
Atlanta is one of the most interesting teams in this year’s Draft. With the blockbuster move made from the San Francisco 49ers moving up from the 12th to the 3rd overall pick, and with many people assuming that they will be picking a QB, everyone is believing the draft “realistically” starts when Atlanta is on the clock.
With a new regime comes new changes, and normally a good cleanup in-house. Evidentially this has been done immediately, with a brand new group of coaches across the board, notably a new head coach, and both offensive and defensive coordinators. With this in mind, which direction will new General Manager Terry Fontenot take to move these Falcons forward?
THE BURNING QUESTION
Matt Ryan. The man was arguably responsible for bringing the Falcons success since holding the starting job at QB since he was drafted in 2008. Undoubtedly, the NFL is a business; if you aren’t getting the results, there’s always going to be questions asked. This always leads to necessary steps needing to be taken to ensure the future success of the team.
Let’s look at the facts. Generally, it feels as though the fanbase of this team are still latching onto that epic collapse In Super Bowl 51 and using it as a scapegoat as such for the team to move on from Ryan.In the last 4 seasons since that collapse, Ryan’s numbers have been solid.
*SINCE 2017: COMP PCT: 66.4%, PASS YPG: 268.8, TD-Int: 107-44, PASS RTG: 96.3
Those numbers cannot be ignored. I am certain that many teams would bite your hand off if you tabled Matt Ryan in a deal. This is without mentioning that Ryan has had to learn two different systems under Dirk Koetter & Steve Sarkisian, and normally when a QB is not performing under a change of scheme, people are very easy to use them as a ‘scapegoat’.
I am not going to try and dissect this, it’s simple enough. Matt Ryan is not the problem for Atlanta. However don’t get me wrong: I realise that the prospect of drafting this high is obviously not going to be in any of the front offices’ plans again, and with a very deep QB class this year I can absolutely see why new General Manager Terry Fontenot is exploring options for life after No.2.
Atlanta has provided two top ten ranked Defenses within the last 22 years, in 1998 & 2017. Since Ryan has been in a Falcon uniform, the defenses around him have never been substantial, and the only two years it was viable was the 2016 Playoff Defense, and 2017. Of course, Matt has been surrounded with amazing weapons during his tenure. But when you look at the players around him, especially at this moment in time, Terry needs to fill this roster with talent in order to give the team the best chance of success in what will most likely be Matt Ryan’s final shot in Atlanta.
THE FUTURE UNDER CENTER?
This is most likely the first time people have actually thought of the idea about a new Quarterback under centre in Atlanta.
If you look at this class of QBs it is very hard for Atlanta not to look at everyone involved, but let’s cut it to the realistic options.
Justin Fields: a Georgia native with a fantastic arm, and incredible athleticism
Trey Lance: Arguably the best athletic QB in this class, with also the biggest “ceiling”
Personally, I like what both these guys can offer at the position, as they are what is typically seen in today’s Quarterbacks: a tall, sturdy frame, good-to-great mobility, and a very strong arm. I am also all for the fact that they won’t have to be chucked into the deep end straight away, since it is likely that Matt will see at least another season as starting QB. To have the situation where a team can sit behind Matt Ryan, someone with great potential has got to be within this evaluation. This is how Patrick Mahomes started after all.
The fact that Atlanta can do this is obviously going to be very tempting for the new GM since it is likely that picks 1 & 2 will be Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson respectively. They will be expected to start, and have success, from day one. And yes, of course, teams that are picking at one and two are most likely in the situation where they can’t sit someone behind a veteran to allow them to adapt to the NFL. But for Terry and the Atlanta front office, a QB at 4 and a possible future successor could be too tempting to pass up.
If the front office decides to look at adding more talent to this roster, then trading down is absolutely a viable option for the Falcons. With most likely 3 Quarterbacks going in the first top 3 picks, and with scouts and executives thinking that 5 QBs could go in the top ten, there is still a chance to get a very good player elsewhere on the field later than No.4.
A mixture of teams have been mentioned in having talks with Atlanta: Dallas, Denver, New England, Washington, and Detroit. Even San Francisco spoke to Atlanta when they eventually traded with Miami just one pick above them.
The fact is: Atlanta has made it clear that No.4 is available, and that has received interest from multiple other teams. It’s very clear that the front office is exploring all options. Miami received a plethora of picks from San Francisco, including two future first-rounds, and I’m sure Atlanta will hope to gain something very similar to that trade.
Atlanta exploring this option is seeming to be gaining notice around the league, Atlanta has many holes on this roster, especially on Defense. The new front office has expressed they want to “stack” this team with talent, and what a better way to do so than stacking yourself with future Draft picks.
A DIFFERENT POSITION?
If all else fails, and Atlanta doesn’t want to select a new QB or hasn’t received any trade offers they like for their No.4 pick, there is tremendous talent in this draft including some incredible players that would greatly help Atlanta straight away. Someone like Kyle Pitts, an absolute freak of nature with what he can give you in the passing game. Or Penei Sewell, a guy who is more or less a guarantee to anchor your offensive line for the next ten plus years.
Atlanta can have options other than Offense too. Many people have suggested Atlanta picking a defensive player at 4 would be a huge reach. but there is some nice defensive talent that could maybe also swing the war room come Draft day.
Weighing up all of the previously presented scenarios and options, I believe that Atlanta’s best situation is to trade down. Simply put, Matt Ryan has taken this team to a Super Bowl. With some smart savvy moves which could help add talent to this roster, Number 2 has the ability to get back to ‘the Dance’ again.This team has a tremendous opportunity to have one last shot with Matt Ryan at the helm. If this Atlanta team trades down and picks up some draft capital to use within the next 2-3 seasons, it can ultimately give Atlanta the best chance to put this team in the right position to have one last shot with Ryan at the helm.
With a fantastic offensive mind in Arthur Smith, to get this once touted offense back into gear and maybe aim to get them within the high-powered form they had with Kyle Shanahan for their Super Bowl Appearance. Smith will also likely be pushing the idea of drafting anything other than a Quarterback. He was only awarded a two-year contract in Atlanta and will be keen to bring in guys that can help the team straight away, with a QB potentially not seeing the field for at least the length of his tenure. This team has too many holes, and one of them is certainly not at QB.
Planning for the future without Matt could be exceptional with one of these guys previously mentioned at QB. But why waste the years Matt has left? Instead, Atlanta should help the man who has given this team a shot since he was drafted.
All eyes should be on the Falcons when they are on the clock because, fan or not, this team is in one of the most interesting positions coming into this Draft. And what new General Manager Terry Fontenot does next is really going to shape what he has planned for his new team.
My advice is if you’re taking a chance on an Atlanta draft market, for them to select a Defensive player at 4/1(Sky Bet Market). Like I mentioned, this team has many holes, lots of them being on the defensive side of the ball, rather than offensive. I would expect if they do trade down, it to be with someone like Denver or Dallas. This maintains Atlanta’s top ten position and allows them to pick up a premier defensive player like Patrick Surtain Jr II or Kwity Paye, who could instantly be plugged right in to help improve this now even more depleted defense.
BEST BET: ATLANTA TO DRAFT A DEFENSIVE PLAYER 4/1 WITH SKYBET. 0.5 POINT BET.
Written by Billy Stevens. Co-Host of the Midge & Keg Football Podcast. @kegmidge on Twitter.