The Falcons are the epitome of a hot-and-cold team in 2020, following a blowout at the hands of the Saints in Week 11 with a thoroughly dominant 43-6 shellacking of the Raiders in Week 12. I can’t explain it, but at the very least these swings in play show what Atlanta is capable of with more consistent coaching and play from key contributors.
At 4-7, the Falcons are currently sitting at 10th in the 2020 NFL Draft. As I said in my draft projection piece, I’d expect the team to finish around 6-10 when it’s all said and done. That should put the team...right around where they are now, although it’s hard to say exactly where as much depends on the play of the teams around them, how Strength of Schedule changes, and the like.
We’ve already covered some top prospects for the Falcons at EDGE, CB, and safety. Let’s now turn our attention to the offense, which is clearly more talented but has some notable holes on the offensive line, RB, and perhaps even at WR. The most important position in this upcoming draft might not actually be a “need”, so to speak, but it is a position the team is likely to focus on: QB.
First off, Matt Ryan still has 3-5 good years left in him. He’s still playing like a top-10 QB despite being hamstrung by Dirk Koetter’s scheme. With a better offensive system (under a new HC like Eric Bieniemy, Arthur Smith, Joe Brady, etc), Ryan can be more than good enough for this team to be a top-5 offense. However, we need to recognize that a new HC may want to bring in a new QB to develop for a myriad a reasons. The Falcons may not be picking in the top-10 again for a long time—if all goes well—and the team may decide to capitalize on this opportunity.
If Atlanta is in the market for a QB to develop behind Ryan—keep in mind he’ll be here through 2021 at least, and more likely through 2022 unless the team can find a trade partner—here are four of the top prospects to consider. No, Trevor Lawrence is not on this list, because that’s not happening.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
While Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence is a virtual lock to go 1st overall, Justin Fields has a slight chance of making it to the Falcons. It would most likely involve a trade-up to 2nd overall with a team like the Bengals and would be very costly, but technically possible. Fields hasn’t quite generated the transcendental hype of Lawrence, but he’s an excellent prospect in his own right.
Fields has a tremendous arm and is capable of making just about every throw in the book. Coupled with his good size at 6’3, 223 and quality athleticism, he’s a dual-threat QB option who can fit into a variety of offensive systems and styles. Fields isn’t quite as dynamic as a Lamar Jackson or Kyler Murray, but he’s a bit bigger and stronger. He’s a little more resilient in the pocket and more difficult to bring down, although he lacks their top-end burst and acceleration. Fields could still benefit from some technical refinement and would be an ideal fit to sit behind Ryan for a season, as he’s just scratching the surface of his potential.
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
If you’re looking for the ultimate boom or bust QB prospect in this draft class, it’s probably North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Lance burst onto the scene with an incredible season in 2019, where he threw for 2786 yards with a 66.9% completion rate and 28 TDs to 0 INTs. Despite those impressive passing numbers, he was even more dangerous with his legs: Lance put up 1100 yards (6.5 YPC) and 14 TDs on the ground to add to his passing totals.
Lance is an exceptional athlete with the build of an NFL QB at 6’3, 224—basically the same size as Justin Fields. He’s got some really impressive throws on tape and looks to have a very strong arm. Lance can hit all areas of the field with accuracy and velocity and clearly has NFL capability. The issue is that he has all of one season to his name, as NDSU played just a single game in 2020. Lance almost certainly needs a season or two to acclimate to the NFL due to his lack of experience, but that could actually make him a perfect fit for the Falcons. With Ryan likely to stick around through 2021 at minimum, Lance could have the time he needs to develop into a high-end NFL QB.
Kyle Trask, Florida
If the Falcons want to wait and take a chance on a QB later in the draft, Florida’s Kyle Trask could be an option at the top of the 2nd round. Trask suffers from the same problem as NDSU’s Trey Lance: he’s only been a starter for a few years and is understandably raw at the position. He also lacks the athletic traits of the top QB prospects in the class and isn’t a threat in the run game whatsoever. However, Trask does have excellent size for the position at 6’5, 239 and is about as resilient in the pocket as they come.
Trask put together a strong season in 2019, and looks to be improving on his numbers in 2020. Currently, Trask has thrown for 2810 yards (10.3 YPA) at a 71.4% completion rate, with 34 TD and just 3 INT. He’s a quick and efficient passer in the short-to-intermediate area of the field, and looks downright elite when targeting this area. However, he has mechanical issues that limit his effectiveness downfield. Coupled with what appears to be a fairly average arm, Trask doesn’t offer the same ceiling as the 1st round QBs on this list. With some development, the right scheme, and a strong supporting cast, Trask can clearly be a quality NFL starter—but the question of “does he offer enough?” comes to mind.
Zach Wilson, BYU
Perhaps the most likely QB to be available for the Falcons, BYU’s Zach Wilson could be an intriguing target around pick 10. At 6’3, 210, he’s got the height you’re looking for but looks a little thin when compared to his NFL counterparts. However, Wilson is a quality athlete with an uncanny ability to avoid pressure and extend plays with his legs. He’s not on the level of Trey Lance or Justin Fields in terms of his rushing ability, but Wilson is more than capable of executing read options and QB sneaks effectively.
Wilson is having a breakout year in 2020 after two fairly mediocre seasons in 2018 and 2019. This year, he’s passed for 2724 yards (11.5 YPA) at an impressive 74.3% completion rate, with 26 TDs to just 2 INTs. Wilson has also added 191 yards (3.7 YPC) and 8 TDs on the ground. He’s a quality passer who has above-average arm strength, good ball placement, and is very comfortable throwing on the move. I’d love to see Wilson in a West Coast system where he can use his athleticism and ability outside the pocket to create explosive plays. There are some technical issues—along with a tendency to be over-aggressive and go for the big play over easy completions—but Wilson has exciting NFL potential. Like all the QBs on this list, Wilson would almost certainly benefit from a year behind Matt Ryan in Atlanta.