Should the Atlanta Falcons draft a QB at No. 4?

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Deen Worley
·7 min read
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In the past twenty years, the Falcons have held a top-5 selection only twice. With those two draft picks, the team landed quarterbacks Michael Vick and Matt Ryan. Unlike Vick, though, Ryan has remained the starting quarterback in Atlanta for the past 13 years.

The former MVP QB has undoubtedly had a great career, but after a third-straight losing season in 2020, is it time for the Falcons to use another top-five pick on a quarterback? Or should the team go forward with Ryan and wait until the later rounds of the 2021 draft to address the position?

Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument.

Why the Falcons should...

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For the first time in the modern era, there is a very likely scenario where five quarterbacks are taken in the top 10. There's even an outside shot that the first five picks could all be quarterbacks. Since the 2010 NFL draft, an average of two quarterbacks have gone inside the top 10. Only four times in the last 11 drafts have there been more than two quarterbacks drafted. Statistically, this crop of signal-callers is either being grossly overrated, or is simply a rare, all-time great draft class. Matt Ryan will be 36 years old by the time the season rolls around. His age and $48 million cap hit in 2022 may be off-putting for Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith. With that being said, the No. 4 selection is the perfect spot to grab a quarterback. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Mac Jones are likely going off the board 1-2-3, leaving the Falcons with a choice between Justin Fields and Trey Lance. Both players could be capable of riding out the next two seasons and fine tuning their game in the event that Ryan begins to decline. https://twitter.com/LRiddickESPN/status/1376963771495776257?s=20 Justin Fields has a big arm and is very capable of making all the throws in the NFL. Drafting Fields now would provide the quarterback a year of experience behind Ryan to progress in his reads at a faster rate and improve his fundamentals altogether. The biggest reason the Falcons should consider drafting a quarterback at number four isn't necessarily the talent but rather getting that fifth-year option, which lessens the cap blow down the road if the player sits behind Ryan for a year or two. It's based on a player's playing time and Pro Bowl accolades. The math here is simple, the less playing time the player receives, the lower the eventual price tag the team. If this draft class is as good as it's hyped up to be, this could be the right time for the Falcons to pull the trigger on Ryan's eventual successor.

Why the Falcons shouldn't...

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While there are plenty of reasons for the Falcons to draft a QB at No. 4, there are also plenty of reasons why they shouldn't. Ryan himself stated back in 2018 that he wishes to play into his 40s. Health has never been an issue with Ryan. In fact, during his 13-year career with the Falcons, the quarterback has only missed three games -- two of which came in the 2009 season. On the production front, the former MVP has shown he is still capable of producing in the NFL. Many people point to his age as the biggest reason to draft his future replacement. However, there is no indication that his performance will drop off a considerable amount. In fact, his performance in 2021 is expected to be elevated by Arthur Smith's offense due to its similarities to the offense Atlanta ran in 2016. The team could instead use that pick to add to Ryan's game by bringing in another pass catcher or going after Oregon's left tackle Penei Sewell. Both would bring an immediate impact to the Falcons and help the team win now. On the financial front, many like to point out the Falcons cutting Matt Ryan after June 1 of 2022 would save the team $23 million in cap space. However, you're not cutting Ryan for nothing. Even with his age and contract, he still has market value. The $23 million in cap savings may look good on paper, but this move is simply not practical. This would incur a dead cap hit of $24 million, and despite what others may tell you, this is something teams try and avoid. The Eagles and Ram only did it due to internal conflicts and Goff not living up to his premature big contract. Sam Bradford is the only notable quarterback to get a post-June 1 cut, making Ryan unlikely to be the next. Finally, drafting a quarterback with the intention of sitting them for a year isn't as easy as many choose to believe. The 2011 collective bargaining agreement saw a decrease in the amount of hours teams could practice, both during the year and in the offseason. This limits the growth of a young quarterback. Not to mention, coaches don't allocate a lot of time during the season for true quarterback development. Instead, we see a much bigger focus on game-planning since their jobs are more predicated on success than anything else.

Overview

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Terry Fontenot is coming from an organization in New Orleans that struggled to part ways with Drew Brees. It's unknown if Fontenot was a believer in continuing to build around Brees, or if he preferred to move on from the future Hall of Fame quarterback sooner than the team did. Fontenot being at odds with Falcons head coach Arthur Smith could suggest the latter, but both have since aligned themselves with the direction they want to go with the No. 4 pick, per D'Orlando Ledbetter of the AJC. However, that direction has yet to be disclosed. An alternate universe suggest that the Saints would have used their No. 11 pick in the 2017 NFL draft to take Patrick Mahomes, thus pushing Drew Brees out the door sooner. However, as we know today, the Chiefs traded one spot ahead of New Orleans before they could pull the trigger. Are the Falcons in a similar position? Atlanta is truly at a crossroads. On one hand, Ryan has proven he can compete on a high level and has no indication this should change. On the other, he will be 36 years old this season and the Falcons will need to eventually have a plan in place for life after Ryan. You don't want to be stuck in a situation in year two or three with Matt Ryan still playing at a high level, despite his age, and have a young quarterback sitting idle on the bench. Not only will the young quarterback be unhappy with the situation, but this could also cause a riff between Ryan and the Falcons organization. By taking a quarterback at No. 4, there is an expectation that he will be a starter in year one or year two at the latest. Let's also not forget, only three quarterbacks who are not currently playing on their rookie contract are still with the team that drafted them. Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Aaron Rodgers (2005), and Matt Ryan (2008). Quarterback scouting, while it may be flashy and exciting, it is entirely speculative and ends up being inaccurate more times than not. The Falcons have a proven winner at quarterback and consistency is hard to come by at the NFL level. https://twitter.com/NFLonFOX/status/1375480089740206084?s=20 And while you can plan for the future, you can also do this by addressing key holes or taking the best player available at the time. With the top three quarterbacks already off the board, the best player available is not likely to be a QB. The Falcons don't have the luxury of drafting a quarterback at No. 4 and still expect to win in 2021. By doing so, the team would be committing to a rebuild and not expected to compete until 2023 or 2024. Threading the needle between winning now or building for the future is much easier said than done.

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