This is the first of a ten-part series reviewing the Falcons season and taking a look at the future outlook position-by-position, beginning with the most important position in all of sports — quarterback. Not many organizations have had more stable quarterback situations than the Falcons have had with Matt Ryan, which looks to continue in 2022.
Ryan finished the 2021 season under first-year head coach Arthur Smith with one of the worst statistical totals of his career. The veteran quarterback and the offense as a whole struggled mightily because of poor offensive line play, lackluster receiving options, and questionable coaching. He finished the season completing 67% of his passes for 3,968 yards, adding 20 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Those are some of the lowest marks of his career, but he was hit more than any other quarterback in the league. It is difficult to evaluate Ryan’s 2021 season because of the personnel deficiencies he’s been forced to work with — arguably the worst supporting cast of his career. However, it is clear his arm has taken a step back.
Ryan just doesn’t have the zip or deep ball he once had. I don’t care what statistic says he was one of the best deep passers in the league; the eye test says otherwise. There have been grossly underthrown balls dating back to 2020 that clearly show Ryan has lost a little arm strength. That isn’t to say he can’t still be a productive quarterback in this league because he can.
Ryan isn’t the reason the Falcons are going to suddenly start winning games in 2022, but he’s also not the reason the team is losing games. He’s capable of leading a talented roster to the postseason, but the Falcons just don’t have that. Given Ryan’s massive cap hits in 2022 and 2023, that underwhelming personnel isn’t going to all of the sudden turn the corner. It will take time.
The Falcons will have difficult decisions to make regarding Ryan’s future with the team, but all signs point to him under center in 2022. There should be natural improvement from the offense because of Ryan and Smith’s familiarity with each other and the offense as a whole. His 2021 season was forgettable, but he’s still shown an ability to command the Falcons offense.
If the Falcons can improve the offensive line and receiving core, Ryan should be much better in 2022. The Falcons currently don’t have a succession plan at quarterback, so they need Ryan to maintain his play for a couple more seasons before moving on.
Who they move on to is another question; I believe that player isn’t currently on the roster, as many people do. Ryan’s backups were just that in 2021 — backups.
Josh Rosen only attempted 11 passes this season, completing only two of those attempts — the same amount of interceptions he had. Rosen is a former first-rounder, but he’s clearly not an NFL quarterback. He’s struggled everywhere he’s gone. After holding down the backup spot for much of this season, I don’t see the Falcons re-signing Rosen as he fell out of favor to end the year for our next reserve player.
Feleipe Franks attempted just one pass this season and threw an interception… that followed Rosen’s pick-six against the Patriots. Franks did finish the year as Ryan’s primary backup, but his contribution mainly came at tight end and on special teams. Smith seems dead set on using Franks in a similar role as Taysom Hill.
I feel there is a time and place for Frank packages, but Smith rarely got it right. Using a more mobile quarterback should be reserved for third/fourth and short or red zone situations. Franks is under contract until 2024, so Falcons fans can expect to see him as Ryan’s backup in 2022. Whether it is as the second- or third-string is yet to be determined.
Some people may have forgotten about A.J. McCarron, who was lost for the season due to injury. Still, my money would be on the former Alabama star to be the team’s primary reserve for Ryan going forward. The coaching staff seemed satisfied with what he provided in the months leading up to the 2021 season, so much so that McCarron stayed with the team during the season in a coach’s role. Smith spoke highly of him, and I expect Fontenot to bring him back on another one-year, team-friendly deal.