For the first time since 2008, the Falcons have competition for the starting quarterback role (takes a deep breath, fighting back tears). This is a position that the Falcons didn’t even have to worry about competition for so long that it’s still a bit surreal. As with the other positions, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are looking for specific traits and skills at the quarterback position.
Coach Smith leans more towards an athletic quarterback with movement skills, one that can be a dual threat to make his offensive scheme successful. This competition will be at the top of my list of things to watch at the Falcons 2022 training camp, as it’s a complete changing of the guard for this franchise.
A brief history at the position
Out of all the draft picks former GM Thomas Dimitroff made over his long tenure, none were more notable or game-changing than the selection of Matt Ryan at 3rd overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Ironically, there was quite a bit of criticism by analysts and fans alike from those thinking Ryan was selected too high.
As it turned out, Matt Ryan is arguably the best quarterback in franchise history. Ryan, in my opinion, was one of the primary reasons Dimitroff had such a long tenure. It’s very difficult to replace a player with Ryan’s IQ, toughness and consistency. As Ryan’s time has passed as a Falcon, a new era begins at the position.
Let’s take a look at the candidates that vie for the starting signal caller for the Falcons.
Camp battle contenders
Fontenot certainly wasted no time acquiring Mariota after dealing Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts. The 2nd overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Tennessee Titans (there goes that team again), Mariota’s career has been maddeningly inconsistent.
While he hasn’t played up to his draft status, the talent is there for him to revitalize his career. A very good athlete with good speed for the position, Mariota has been a dual threat in the backfield his entire career, which is something the Falcons haven’t had in quite some time. I know, I know. Michael Vick was basically an athlete that could throw a football early in his career, though.
For Mariota, while in the right system he has a chance to flourish, he needs to make better decisions on the field from a mental and physical standpoint. While I certainly love his willingness to put his body on the line and get his hands dirty in both the running and passing games, Mariota needs to make better business decisions in regards to his body because he’s been injured quite often during his professional career.
This is the perfect time for Mariota to revitalize his career, because the opportunity is there for him to take and he has familiarity with Coach Smith and his scheme. A low risk/high reward signing, the ball is in Mariota’s court when it comes to how his future looks in the league.
Out of all of the picks Terry Fontenot made in the 2022 NFL draft, the 3rd round selection of Desmond Ridder is my absolute favorite for multiple reasons. Ridder was seen by quite a few as a late 1st round pick in the draft. I personally wouldn’t have loved the pick of Ridder in the 1st. I actually would’ve tolerated him in the 2nd, as that’s where I expected him to go, and that’s where the value was the best in my opinion. However, at the beginning of the 3rd is amazing value.
This was the smartest pick of the draft by Fontenot ,because he doesn’t have to link his career to Ridder, and if he pans out then all the better for the franchise going forward. I love this kid’s mental makeup, work ethic and athleticism. He’s just as fast as Mariota, and he has that desire to be great.
Many have made a big deal over Ridder’s accuracy issues, but most of his issues are based on technique. Ridder is one of those players that coaches know they’ll get 110% out of him every day, and he’s a natural leader. I do believe that when all is said and done, Ridder will be a good starter in the league.
Who wins the battle
As of now, I don’t see many scenarios where Marcus Mariota isn’t named the starter to start the season. While Ridder’s work ethic is amazing and he puts in work tirelessly, he still needs to get used to the speed of the game and work on certain aspects of his game from a technique standpoint. Coach Smith will slowly ease Ridder into the position while giving Mariota the reigns initially.
Now, while I do believe that Mariota starts the season as the signal caller for the Falcons, the real question is if he will still be the starter by the end of the season. If the Falcons aren’t in playoff contention during crunch time towards the end of the season (I certainly don’t see that happening), I fully expect Coach Smith to see what he has in Ridder by giving him meaningful snaps.
Of course, anything can happen going into camp and in the season. Could Ridder outright beat Mariota out of the role before the start of the regular season? It’s possible, and it’s also possible that Ridder could be starting earlier in the season if injuries occur. However, I think it’s a safe bet to assume that Mariota will ultimately win out to start the season.