With just over two weeks to go until the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. Let’s kick things off on the offensive side of the ball, starting with the big one: quarterback.
THE STARTER: Matt Ryan
6’4, 217 | 2020 Stats: 407/626 (65.0%) for 4581 passing yards, 26 TDs, 11 INT
The Falcons faced a big decision this offseason: to stick with Matt Ryan through another extension, or target a future franchise QB with the 4th overall pick? Atlanta chose to re-affirm their relationship with Ryan by selecting TE Kyle Pitts at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft over QB Justin Fields. Financially, they did the same thing by choosing to restructure his contract prior to the draft.
All signs point to Arthur Smith having total confidence in Ryan to continue playing at a high level for the next few seasons. And why shouldn’t he? Ryan has been no worse than a borderline top-10 QB over the past few seasons, and his skillset would seem to be an ideal fit for the type of offense Smith has run in the past. While we’ve lost the potential for an all-time great passing attack with Julio Jones in the fold, the offense still has a number of weapons. If Kyle Pitts is what we all think he is, this unit still has tremendous potential with Matt Ryan at the helm.
It’s impossible to say when Ryan will start the dreaded decline, but for now he’s got the coaching staff behind him and the starting QB job locked up for the foreseeable future.
THE BACKUP BATTLE: A.J. McCarron vs Feleipe Franks
6’3, 215 | 2020 Stats: 1/1 for 20 passing yards
6’6, 228 | 2020 Stats (College): 163/238 (68.5%) for 2107 passing yards, 8.9 YPA, 17 TD, 4 INT | 105 carries for 204 yards (1.9 YPC), 1 TD
Atlanta was fortunate to have the services of Matt Schaub behind Ryan since 2016, but the veteran finally decided to retire prior to his age 40 season. The Falcons puzzlingly decided to part ways with developmental QB Kurt Benkert, instead leaving the position vacant through most of the offseason. After Day 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, the team added veteran A.J. McCarron—and a few days later, signed Feleipe Franks as a UDFA.
You might assume McCarron is the heavy favorite due to the team’s previous reliance on trusted veterans to handle the backup job, but Franks is a very intriguing player in his own right. Neither have proven themselves in the NFL—McCarron has just 174 career passing attempts to his name, most of which came all the way back in 2015. We don’t know Arthur Smith’s preference for his backup either, which makes this camp competition very intriguing.
Franks is arguably the most talented QB prospect the team has brought in since Ryan, scoring in the 95th percentile as an athlete per RAS. He improved his accuracy and decision-making in his 2020 season at Arkansas, although he’s still very much a long-term project. Meanwhile, McCarron does have a great deal of NFL experience, spending time as the backup in Cincinnati, Oakland, and Houston over the past 6 seasons. He lacks the flashy athleticism and upside of Franks, but has always been known as a very smart player with the ability to command a huddle.
Unless one of these two plays poorly in the preseason, the Falcons appear to feel confident that their backup will be one of these two players. Atlanta has frequently had 4 QBs in camp in past years—leaving it at just 3 signals a level of trust in Franks and the possibility for an extended look at both Franks and McCarron in the games. If McCarron winds up winning the job, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see Franks land on the practice squad.