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The Great Falcons Roster Breakdown, Quarterbacks Edition

We're kicking off the roster breakdown season right with a comprehensive look at quarterback, headlined by the truly fantastic work of reader brickcheney and followed by the fine work of tlozwarlock and some guy named Dave. You might know him.

Basically, this is to give everyone a snapshot of where our quarterbacks are right now, what they might do in the year ahead and why they're either awesome or terrible. By giving everyone a mix of perspectives, I'm hoping we can sort through our feelings for each position and sign off on a grade. Based on what we write here and how you vote in the poll, I'll be drawing up a pre-draft list of grades at each position to gauge our relative strength. From there, it will be used as a way to gauge the 2010 NFL Draft's strengths and weaknesses, after which we'll take another look at the updated roster. Phew.

But for now, I'd highly encourage you to take a look at our breakdown and share your thoughts on the feature and the state of our quarterbacks. Next week we'll take a close look at running backs. Now? Follow along after the jump.

brickcheney writes:

Matt Ryan

There are two Matt Ryans. And no, I don't really mean '08 Matt Ryan and '09 Matt Ryan. Factoring in injuries and strength of schedule, his disappointing '09 is less concerning than it feels. I'm talking about these two cats:

In this corner, weighing in at 98 pounds of nerves, we have Matt "Happy Feet" Ryan AKA Pitter Patter Matt AKA Too Hard Tryin' Ryan. He reared his tentative head several times in '08, but this year we saw him skipping around shook for most of the middle of the season, up until he was put out of his misery in the week 12 Tampa game. (Why do all Atlanta quarterbacks turn into Woody Allen characters at the sight of pewter?)

The state of our quarterback:

  • We're glad he likes Atlanta so much, but his road passer rating is 17 points lower than his home rating.
  • He's yet to put up a dominant game against a top opponent (though I'd argue he played much, much better against New Orleans than his box score would suggest, as one pick was due to uncalled pass interference, another was tipped by Jonathan Vilma jumping out of his skin, and the third was a hail mary).
  • Somehow, despite throwing his share of picks, he's diligent to a fault about throwing the ball out of bounds when under pressure. He might be the least likely quarterback to get a concussion, which is good, but we'd like just a little more pocket presence and killer instinct.
  • He locks in on one or two receivers, as if he's playing Madden for the first time.
  • His inaccuracy is often surprising. He'll open one game by chaining nine or twelve completions in a row, then kick things off the next week by uncorking some shameless knuckler at nobody. You can often tell by his first pass how the rest of the drive, or even the rest of the game, is going to go.
Sigh. But that's not the whole story. In the other corner, the pride of the South Pole's meanest streets: Matty Ice.

I'm very happy with Ryan's final three games of 2009. Especially the Jets game. Considering he was coming off an injury, without a running game to speak of, against the #1 passing defense that thought it had to win to stay in the playoffs hunt, with 43 years of futility on his 24-year-old shoulders, and with Roddy White stranded on Revis Island, expectations for Ryan were realistic. And for 55 minutes or so, he was more lucky than good, bouncing passes off Jets left and right. But with back-to-back winning seasons on the line, tri-state temperatures plummeted as Matty came alive. Pelting Ice with snowballs only makes him icier, Jets fans. As Tony Gonzalez caught the winning touchdown in like quintuple coverage, we knew The Curse's days were numbered. Lighting up the Bills' #2 passing defense and playing Good Enough against the damned Bucs were bonuses. Back-to-back winning seasons, with more on the way.

I choose to believe this: his superclutch dart to Michael Jenkins in the '08 Chicago game, called by some the NFL's best pass of the season, wasn't a fluke. Ryan threw more than his share of picks in '09 (but check out the interception totals of young Peyton Manning, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Troy Aikman, and so on), but most were due to misfires and nervous overthrows, not bad decisions. Which is good. Learning to calm down seems a lot easier than learning to read NFL defenses. All young quarterbacks struggle. Ours just happened to do most of his in his second year.

So I'm arguing that most of 2009 was a fluke for Matt Ryan. Scaredy Matt will diminish over time as Ice takes over. 2010 will be the first of many blockbuster years, and we'll look back and chortle our faces off at ever having this discussion.

Like many of you, I fully expect Ryan to earn an A+ by the time he retires. But we got a long way to go.

Matt Ryan: B-

Chris Redman

Despite the used-diaper-wedged-behind-the-trash-can-for-days-until-making-its-presence-known that was his performance in the week 13 Philadelphia game, Chris Redman might be football's best backup QB in quite a while. In fact, for whatever DYAR's worth, Rojohombre was the 22nd best quarterback of 2009. Atlanta was the only team with two quarterbacks in the top 22 and one of only two teams with multiple QBs in the top 32 (Philly's Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb being the other).

Before drafting Matt Ryan, many of us (CONFESSION) wanted LSU DT Glenn Dorsey and were totally fine riding into battle with Chris Rougehomme at the reins. He played well for four of the last five games of The Year Of Which We Do Not Speak, giving us the slightest glimmer at the end of our darkest hour. Chris Rossosignore's 2007 Offensive Player of Week 17 award, earned by lighting up Seattle in a shootout win, was pretty much Petrino Bismol. And for that, we should be forever grateful.

When Ryan went down in week 12 of '09, Falcondom wasn't really crushed by a wave of panic. We knew Chris Nyekundumwanaume would hold it down. He's decisive, wields sufficient cannon, and doesn't make mistakes against teams that wear colors besides sea foam green. Sure, I think we would've beaten New Orleans in week 14 if Ryan had been healthy. But our backup kept us in the game for 60 minutes against the conference champs; you really can't ask for much more than that.

As a starting quarterback, you'd have to think of Chris as a C+. But considering his spot on the depth chart, acceptance of his role, good relationship with Ryan, and current salary...

Chris Redman: A+

John Parker Wilson

John Parker Wilson's helmet fits his head, which crowns his 6'2" frame, and he has learned to will his arm to whip forward rapidly. He was not featured in MTV's Two-A-Days program. Upon whipping, the 215-pound John Parker Wilson has been known to unclench his fingers, sending aloft any object he may have been palming... he does this on purpose! John Parker Wilson (a typical Libra) wears the same uniform number as Lou Gehrig. The whipped object sails, soon descending. John Parker Wilson makes a very good salary, for a recent college graduate at least. If John Parker Wilson's intentions are pure, the product of his throw will arrive in the hands of a designated recipient, typically a uniformed coworker. Actually, in this economy, John Parker Wilson's salary is nothing to be ashamed of, college grad or otherwise. Having worn some shade of red in his uniforms at high school, college, and the NFL, John Parker Wilson -- of Hoover, Alabama, home of Michael Jordan's former minor league baseball team -- has three first names and three last names (if you count John as a last name, à la Lil Jon), and his 105" broad jump is the stuff of document.

John Parker Wilson: ?

DJ Shockley

Local superstar DJ Shockley has thrown as many NFL passes as John Parker Wilson. He's kept around because he moonlights as the Quarterback Turk, having seen fellow bottom-rungers Joey Harrington and Brian Randall off previous Falcons depth charts.

In 2009 John Parker Wilson snatched Shockley's job (steadying the podium upon which Chris Redman rests his clipboard), but 2010's training camp battle may be one for the ages as (PREDICTION) the brass secures a few more season ticket sales by announcing, "Yo DJ, bring that back!"

Some Falcons fans think Shockley should be incorporated as a Wildcat snap-taker. These particular Falcons fans also wear red and black on Saturdays and do not have any part of Mike Smith's ear.

I like DJ Shockley, have no idea why, and assume you feel the same way.

DJ Shockley: ?

brickcheney blogs at ENGINE Industries. Check it out.

tlozwarlock writes:

Matt Ryan (1st string): The dreaded "Sophomore Slump" hit, but not hard enough to prevent a winning record. Matt wound out the year with 22 TDs and 14 INTs, and might’ve had more of each had he not gone down in week 12 with a turf toe injury. Of course, one could argue that the turf toe came about as a result of Matt having to run for his life on every down starting under center. Still, the OL only surrendered 19 sacks versus 2008’s 17, a mere 2 SCK increase. Granted, that number could have been greater had Matt not gotten the injury (especially considering the Eagles game…). Some have argued that Matt saw more attempts last season and therefore had a greater chance to make those bad throws. In 2008, Matt attempted 434 passes and netted 16 TDs. That’s a .04% TD rate. In 2009, Matt attempted 451 passes and 22 of them were TDs. That’s a .05% TD to Attempt ratio, meaning our franchise QB actually improved, if only very slightly. Keep in mind, too, that Matt had a turf toe injury that Comrade Dimitroff said should have taken 4 to 6 weeks to repair. Matt was back on the field in two. Make fun of his "noodle" arms all you want, Matt is tough and determined. Is QB rating steadily increased after he came back too. Who’s willing to bet that Mr. Matty Ice starts off 2010 ticked and ready to show the NFL what he’s made of? I certainly am. Grade: A-, for intestinal fortitude and very slight improvement over 2008

Chris Redman (2nd String): We should, at least in a perfect world, only see Redman on the sideline while his young protégé is lighting up the NFL landscape with his awesomeness. Unfortunately (and fortunately, in at least one case) Redman had to step in for Ryan for two point nine-nine games. His first full game as a starter? Well, let’s just say that it had shades of 2007 written all over it. I was seriously afraid Dave was going to have to write a two-act play after that Eagles game. Thankfully, Redman was "good enough" to finish the Tampa Bay home game with our lead intact. Unthankfully, he took the Eagles game off (and forgot how to put air under any of his passes) in lieu of the monstrous shadow of the Saints marching into Atlanta the next week. Redman shined bright in our toughly contested home game against the Who Dat?ers but was not Matt Ryan enough to finish the job. Redman is the answer to the dastardly question "What If" and it’s a question we should, at least for the time being, be able to answer. It’s unfortunate that the answer is mediocre at best. Grade C+: for being middle of the road and almost beating the Saints

John Parker Wilson (3rd String): For a very brief stint this season, JPW was a hard-hit away from leading his first professional huddle. That hit thankfully never came. That’s not to say Wilson doesn’t have potential. Despite his shortish stature (6’2, I believe) he demonstrated during the preseason that he the ability to move the team down the field. He’s struggled every single time in the red zone and I’ve yet to see him, even in practice (outside of one long TD bomb to Harry Douglas during minicamp) score a single point. He did, however, beat the pants off of DJ Shockley during the epic 3rd string quarterback battle last preseason, managing to turn the ball over less than the perennial franchise favorite DJ. The fact that JPW, an undrafted free agent, managed to beat out a long-installed backup NFL QB hints at some potential. I wouldn’t be surprised to see JPW give Redman a run for his money this preseason, if the QB lineup remains the same. Grade: C- for beating Shock and not having to come off the bench all season long.

DJ Shockley (Practice Squad): Only time and perhaps the CBA will determine if Shock remains a Falcon. Remember he was signed after Ryan went down merely as some insurance. He was not given a slot on the QB section of the roster. He lost his job to a first year undrafted free agent that was labeled as a "game manager, nothing else" during college. He looked horrendous during the preseason against some of the softest and greenest defenses out there. He can’t run, throws the ball too hard, and can’t hold on to the ball when scrambling. A bad combination if we ever saw one. Grade: F for not making the team or the practice squad until Ryan went down.

Dave the Falconer writes:

Tough acts to follow, but I'm not a quitter! Except when I quit.

QB Matt Ryan, Starter: The Matt Ryan you saw with your eyes on the field each Sunday wasn't the Matt Ryan reflected on the stat sheet by the end of the season. Many times this season, I grew frustrated with what I saw as Ryan's backslide from his brilliant rookie campaign. He seemed skittish in the pocket, routinely overthrew receivers and seemed to crumple in on himself at times. Add that to a nagging injury that sapped his effectiveness and playing time and you have a recipe for a mediocre season. While I don't think any of us thought Ryan was terrible, he didn't take The Leap (trademarked) so many of us foresaw.

But was he really all that bad? According to the fine folks at Football Outsiders, Ryan's DYAR (an advanced metric standing for Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) was 13th in the league, slightly above average. He tossed more touchdowns than last year, in two fewer games. That tells us he was at least semi-effective, and he was. Unfortunately, he also had fewer yards per attempt, a worse completion percentage (from around 61% to 58%) and more interceptions. By any measure, it was an inconsistent season.

So what to expect from Matty Snowballs in 2010? He should be fully healthy and he got some growing pains out of the way in 2009, so the neat little ribbon on this analysis would be that he's due to bounce back and take a big step forward. And a big part of me believes that will be the case. After all, he's still got a pretty good completion percentage, he's shown he has football intelligence and 2009 featured a series of almost comical injuries to his protection and his playmakers. That said, I think it's only fair that we temper our expectations somewhat, because chances are very good that Ryan isn't going to suddenly vault into Tom Brady/Peyton Manning/Kurt Warner territory. Even when the team was pretty healthy, Ryan wasn't slinging it with the virtuoso skill that we expect.

So in 2010, I expect Ryan to bump up his touchdown numbers a little bit given a full season, cut an interception or two off his total and bail out his completion percentage once more. I expect the team will make sure he's a little bit more comfortable in the pocket and has a little more time to pass. And what will all those little differences give us? A better Matt Ryan, even if it's not that exponential leap forward we hoped for. You know what? That's a pretty good situation to be in, all things considered. Even if 2009 wasn't the year of Matt Ryan, after all.

Grade: B

QB Chris Redman, Backup: We at the The Falcoholic have heralded Chris Redman as one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league over the last couple of season, an opinion that took a gut punch after Redman muddled his way through two starts and parts of six games in total. It wasn't that Redman was bad, just....average. As a fan, you really hope your backup will come in and save the day when needed, but Chris wasn't up to it this season.

In fact, what's really striking is how similar his numbers look to Matt Ryan's throughout the season. Completing 58 percent of his passes? Check. Roughly 80 passer rating? Check again. The only thing Chris Redman did really poorly at was getting rid of the football, as is evidenced by his eight sacks in his limited playing time. As we go into 2010, that ranks as Redman's greatest weakness. If you look at most teams' depth charts, though, you'll find Redman is still comfortably ahead of most.

And hey, he's a more than serviceable backup at age 32. In the short term, having an experienced backup with enough talent to not kill a team is important. Long-term, I'd hope the Falcons would look at someone with considerably more upside. As we go into next season, I'd expect Redman to get very limited playing time and do pretty well, especially when the team remembers to accomodate his different style. I'm comfortable with Chris Redman as our second-string quarterback, and so all's well. It's just not exceptional.

Grade: B-

QB John Parker Wilson, the backup's backup: Truth be told, we don't know much about JPW.

We know the coaching staff liked him enough to keep him around. We know that scouts didn't think too highly of his arm strength and physical makeup. He's supposed to be a smart guy who makes sound decisions, but until he gets game action it's going to be hard to know. Right now, we're left with a relative unknown whose history and scouting reports suggest he'll probably never be more than a serviceable backup, and may not even reach those heights. Although I'd like to see what he's got, I don't expect him to play at all in 2010. At least, I really hope not.

Grade: INC

QB D.J. Shockley, practice squadder: I love D.J. Shockley, but his days with this team are likely numbered. He knows the system and is valuable in practices because of it, but if he couldn't beat out John Parker Wilson for a roster spot, he doesn't have a future with the Atlanta Falcons. I don't expect him to crack the roster again in 2010, and I wish him well.

Grade: INC

Tell us what you think in the comments!