Of the Atlanta Falcons’ last 225 regular-season games, quarterback Matt Ryan started 222 — for trivia purposes, Chris Redman (two) and Matt Schaub started the others. The Falcons wrote an end to the Ryan Era this offseason, however, trading the veteran to the Indianapolis Colts. While many years such a move would portend the early selection of a young signal caller, this year’s draft was considered among the weakest in quarterback talent in recent memory.
Most teams shared that viewpoint, and thus the Falcons were able to bypass the position with their first three selections and still nab Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder in the third round. Whether he turns out to be Atlanta’s quarterback of the future remains to be seen, but he won’t be rushed after the team signed veteran Marcus Mariota, most recently of the Las Vegas Raiders, to a two-year deal. There are some real similarities between Ridder and Mariota, which should make any potential transition relatively seamless.
New head coach Arthur Smith spent the last 10 years with the Tennessee Titans, including the past two as offensive coordinator, so he’s familiar with Mariota — the Oregon alum was the second overall pick in 2015 and spent four seasons as the Titans’ primary starting QB. That should help Smith design an offense that plays to Mariota’s strengths.
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Although the numbers were never great, Mariota presided over some decent Titans squads, putting together a 29-32 record in 62 career starts. He appeared only in relief and gimmick packages during his two-year tenure with the Silver and Black, though even in that limited capacity he was injured. Durability was an issue for Mariota in Tennessee as well, even though he managed to play through some of those injuries. Expected to be a full-time starter for the first time since 2018, it’s something to watch.
On the field, Mariota’s athleticism is still his No. 1 selling point. In the three seasons where he made more than 12 starts, the veteran averaged 3,062 yards passing and 339 yards rushing. A career 77-to-45 TD-to-INT ratio is a little unsightly, however, and even that is heavily skewed by his showing in 2016 when he threw 26 touchdown passes against only nine picks. Over the five years since then, Mariota has 32 TD strikes and 26 picks. Expect a lot of short passes to wide receiver Drake London and tight end Kyle Pitts along with a healthy dose of running when Mariota is in there.
Viewed by many scouting sites as a Round 2 selection, Ridder slipped to 74th overall where the pressure to deliver early on will be lessened. He started 50 games at the University of Cincinnati, enjoying a lot of success, and he carries the self-confidence that comes in tow. Beyond the intangibles, Ridder is a plus athlete with the speed to extend plays or make things happen as a runner. While he boasts a strong arm, the former Bearcat gets dinged for locking onto his targets and not progressing through his reads quickly enough, which spells trouble in the NFL.
He has enough collegiate experience to step into the QB1 role early on. Considering that the Falcons are expected to be among the league’s bottom feeders this year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ridder get an extended look at some point.
Fantasy football outlook
While there’s at least some dual-threat potential in Atlanta’s quarterbacks, the season-long outlook for both is to stay away. Odds are that Mariota will break camp as the starter, and then at some point he’ll get injured, or the Falcons will fall out of postseason contention and management will want to get a feel for what they have in Ridder. Those in keeper leagues might want to stash Ridder as a long-term investment, but it’s tough to see much appeal for 2022. Mariota’s only draftable worth is as a third (or ideally fourth) in best-ball with 20-plus-player rosters.