The Atlanta Falcons are taking a “serious look” at this year’s quarterback class, according to ESPN’s Matt Miller. Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot currently owns the No. 8 selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. The Falcons should consider drafting a quarterback if their preferred target begins sliding.
Sophomore signal-caller Desmond Ridder is slated to enter the 2023 campaign as Atlanta’s starter. Ridder started the final four contests of the Falcons’ 2022 season. Ridder experienced highs and lows, completing 63.5% of his throwing attempts for 708 yards, two touchdowns, and three interceptions. Ridder also lost two fumbles. The flashes were positive, but the sample size is far too small to say Ridder is Atlanta’s franchise quarterback with any sense of definitiveness.
Head coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot may be entering a fate-deciding campaign. One could argue Atlanta’s current regime overachieved in 2021 and 2022, leading the Falcons to back-to-back seven-win seasons despite questions at quarterback and a lack of general difference-makers. Fontenot inherited an aging roster in decline that also happened to be in salary cap hell. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Smith has kept the Falcons in general contention, but could he and Fontenot survive a third consecutive campaign that fails to qualify for the postseason? How patient is owner Arthur Blank? If the Falcons are placing faith in Ridder, they better be convinced he’s a starting-caliber quarterback. In the interest of fairness, a similar argument could be made against drafting another quarterback.
The Falcons have shown interest in quarterbacks nonetheless. They hosted Kentucky quarterback Will Levis on a Top 30 visit earlier this week, per Ian Rapoport. Atlanta’s interest in quarterbacks is real. It’s worth noting Levis once operated an offense under Liam Coen, who previously spent time on Sean McVay’s coaching staff. Smith runs a variation of McVay’s zone-based offense—Levis would inherently be familiar with Smith’s concepts.
The Falcons could also be influenced by their division rival Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are expected to draft either Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud with the top overall selection. If Levis or Anthony Richardson are available at No. 5 overall, the Falcons could consider trading up to match Carolina by drafting a rookie signal-caller.
Fontenot has done a good job of leaving his options open. The Falcons signed former Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke in unrestricted free agency after releasing Marcus Mariota. Heinicke is a better quarterback than Mariota, and he’s good enough to breathe down Ridder’s neck throughout training camp. Heinicke was consistently good, but not good enough in Washington. Heinicke isn’t a long-term solution, but he’s capable of keeping the Falcons in contention for the NFC South division title, especially since Tom Brady has vacated the premises.
The Falcons finally had financial freedom under Fontenot for the first time this offseason. Fontenot enjoyed a spending spree that landed the likes of Jessie Bates III and Calais Campbell in free agency, and Jonnu Smith via trade. Fontenot’s regime feels pressure to win now.
The Falcons could have bigger needs at 8th overall than a quarterback. They recorded a 31st-ranked 21.0 sacks in 2022. They lack general talent at EDGE. Drafting Myles Murphy or Tyree Wilson would move the needle forward. The Falcons could also pair cornerback A.J. Terrell with a long-term running mate like Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, or Joey Porter Jr. Trading for Jeff Okudah doesn’t fix the position.
Nothing supersedes the requirement for a quarterback though. Ridder’s year-one performances paired with signing Heinicke muddied the waters. Fontenot is holding Atlanta’s draft cards close to the chest. The Falcons are a candidate to make a surprise move for a quarterback on draft day.
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