Well, this is our first installment in our 2018 Atlanta Falcons post-draft roster preview here at The Falcoholic, and we’re going to start out with a bang.
Quarterbacks! fireworks go off
The Falcons have four quarterbacks under contract right now, and could carry three on the roster for the first time in a while with the addition of priority UDFA Kurt Benkert of Virginia.
We know one of these guys pretty darn well, and you people love to complain about the other notable one. There’s one you probably forgot we had, too. So, let’s dig in, shall we?
QB Matt Ryan
Ryan is the de-facto starter for Atlanta, and likely will be until he either begins to hit a sharp decline in his play or decided to retire. That will be around age 40, I’d imagine, so expect Ryan here for another eight seasons at the least. He could be here another decade if Father Time smiles upon him like he has with others.
His 2017 season was a regression to the mean, though a lot of the things he upped with his game in the Kyle Shanahan era stuck around for Steve Sarkisian. Ryan’s a better quarterback than he was before Kyle came to town, and a lot of that maturation has made the Sark transition a bit easier, even if the offense took a stark dip in 2017 in scoring.
But, the Falcons seem to have made some under-the-radar moves to help Ryan out, and they are the types of low-focus fixes that just might get this engine running hot again.
First, getting Greg Knapp in the building to be Ryan’s position coach is a savvy move. Nothing against Bush Hamdan, but he was a bit new to the process when hired, and Knapp has been around the NFL for a good while. He most recently was Peyton Manning’s position coach for that Super Bowl Broncos team, so he knows a thing or two about working with really good quarterbacks in their 30s. Having a seasoned mind to help Ryan out during the season will do him well.
Also, adding a strong blocking tight end in Logan Paulsen and a veteran right guard in Brandon Fusco will help in the pass protection. Having sound blocking up front will help Ryan make his progressions and avoid taking hits. As he gets older, that will become more important. Wes Schweitzer wasn’t a bad right guard, but he often lacked the power in pass pro to hold off the strongest competitors. Fusco isn’t exactly a Pro Bowler, but he’s better-equipped for that role.
And, again, weapons help Ryan a lot. Drafting Calvin Ridley is going to give this offense the wrinkle it lacked last year. Ridley is a more polished route runner than Taylor Gabriel, and while he might not have that electric playmaking ability, he’s an overall better receiver for what receivers typically do. Gabriel does need a smart schemer to get him into space where he can do his damage. If Ridley can get better about pressing corners, he’s going to be the WR2 before long, and will allow Mohamed Sanu to play the slot more. This will help Ryan have more dependable weapons to rely on, which makes him a better QB.
Of course, Ryan can only go as far as Sarkisian will let him, and like everything with the offense, is dependent on Sark taking the leaps in his playcalling. He very well should, so Ryan could be poised to have season very similar to 2012. His offense won’t be historic, but it certainly will be dangerous.
QB Matt Schaub
Before you pile on old Schaub, keep in mind the other options on the table right now are a UDFA and Garrett Grayson.
While, sure, Atlanta would be much better off to get a guy like Colin Kaepernick to back Ryan up, Schaub does know the scheme, and has worked with new QBs coach Knapp in the past. Schaub provides a lot of help off the field in practices and meetings with his intelligence, but he’s also been a starter in the NFL.
So, if Ryan *knocks on wood* did get injured, then Schaub would have the smarts and poise to at least be serviceable for a game or two before the cracks start to show. He’s an expensive luxury to have, but he brings more to the table than just holding the clipboard. Look for him to be tasked to help bring along the next guy on our list.
QB Kurt Benkert
Benkert had a decent career at Virginia, and is our new undrafted free agent QB. He actually has a shot to make the roster as a stash-away QB to be groomed to be Ryan’s backup of the future, as soon as 2019, even.
Schaub will likely mentor Benkert in his first year, with the most action he’s likely to see coming in the preseason third and fourth quarters. If Benkert is ever starting for the Falcons in 2018, something has gone terribly wrong. But, the staff seems to like him a lot, so watch for him to be here for some time, either as a game day inactive, or as a practice squad member with an eye for more down the line.
QB Garrett Grayson
Grayson was a draft miss in New Orleans who couldn’t work his way to being Drew Brees’ backup, much less a successor. It’s a tough situation for a guy who folks said had promise in college, but good on Grayson for sticking with it and getting opportunities where he can. Grayson doesn’t look to make the roster in his time with Atlanta, but he could be a scout team QB for the practice squad in 2018 if the team carries three on the roster.
Perhaps Atlanta also likes what Grayson could be down the road, and hypothetically, could have him and Benkert duke it out for that developmental spot. This is a team that preaches competition, after all. Besides, it’s nice to have someone around who knows Sean Payton’s playbook.
Ryan is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks, and is good enough to win a Super Bowl. Most teams can’t boast having a guy like that, so count your blessings when it comes to who is throwing the passes. Schaub will have another year of being a luxury member of the roster who can put his mind to work off the field to help the team. Benkert might be the backup of the future, and Grayson is an interesting guy the team seems to want to keep around.
The movement under Ryan hopefully will never matter, but we’ll see how that group shakes out come training camp and preseason.
So, what’s your read on the quarterbacks room as it stands?