The Atlanta Falcons agreed to trade veteran quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts, according to several reports on Monday. Ryan fills a clear need in Indianapolis, who dealt last season’s starting quarterback Carson Wentz to Washington earlier in the offseason. The move lands the Falcons a third-rounder in the 2022 NFL Draft.
— NFL (@NFL) March 21, 2022
Ryan’s Departure Changes Falcons NFL Draft Approach
It’s pretty clear the Atlanta Falcons wanted to go in a different direction, as was clear with the team’s pursuit of Deshaun Watson last week. Ryan’s coming off a season in which he threw for 3,968 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. His 90.1 passer rating was the lowest of his career since 2015. The Falcons finished 7-10, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
Ryan and Atlanta pushed back the veteran QB’s $7.5 million roster bonus to help grease the wheels for this deal. Some evaluators believe the 37-year-old Ryan’s arm strength and mobility have diminished in recent years, but he’s an upgrade over Wentz for the Colts. Ryan’s now on track to become the seventh different Week 1 starting quarterback since 2016.
The trade shifts Ryan’s more than $40 million cap hit to dead money for Atlanta. This will no doubt alter the Falcons approach at the NFL Draft, who have added an additional Day 2 selection.
Atlanta needs a new starting quarterback for the first time in 14 years. While they signed a stopgap in free agency, Marcus Mariota, they could be the first team to choose a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. Mariota played under Arthur Smith in Tennessee, but he’s just keeping the seat warm for the next franchise quarterback.
Falcons Futures Tied to NFL Draft
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Matt Ryan No. 3 overall in 2008. Since then, he’s been a steady presence in their huddle. Ryan missed only three games over his first 14 seasons and threw for over 4,000 yards in each season from 2011 to 2020. He threw at least 20 touchdown passes in all but one season (2008) and led the Falcons to a Super Bowl appearance. The Falcons can only hope the 2022 NFL Draft holds a similarly successful quarterback.
The Falcons NFL draft capital should provide the team with potential upgrades for a number of different position groups. Atlanta holds nine picks overall, including five between Days 1 and 2.
- First Round: No. 8
- Second Round: No. 43, No. 58
- Third Round: No. 74, No. 82
- Fourth Round: No. 114
- Fifth Round: No. 151
- Sixth Round: No. 190, No. 213
Atlanta has needs at quarterback, edge, wide receiver, and offensive line. The Carolina Panthers, who hold No. 6 overall, also have a need at quarterback. The Seahawks (No. 9) and Steelers (No. 20) also have clear needs at quarterback.
Underwhelming Quarterback Class in 2022
The 2022 Big Board lists three quarterbacks with first-round grades and sees five among the Top-50 prospects. There’s no way the 2022 class lands five quarterbacks in the top 15 selections like the 2021 class did. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut franchise QB on the board, which may influence the Falcons’ NFL Draft focus.
That said, while this group isn’t viewed as the most talented class, there’s a chance teams will reach for one or more of these prospects.
Worth noting that the #Falcons were well represented (GM, head coach, offensive coordinator) at QB Kenny Pickett's pro day today.
— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) March 21, 2022
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett ranks highest among this year’s quarterback class. He finished last season with 4,319 passing yards, 42 touchdowns, and just seven interceptions. Pickett’s considered the most pro-ready prospect this season and is actually older than each of the first-round quarterbacks from 2021.
Liberty’s Malik Willis is also among the highest-rated quarterback prospects. He upped his stock at the Senior Bowl following a 2021 season where he completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 2,857 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Willis has the physical tools to succeed, with a thick build and powerful arm, but needs to improve his decision-making and accuracy.