The Falcons have been recognized by many for having one of the best draft classes in the 2022 cycle after addressing several of the roster’s needs while maximizing value using a best player available approach.
However, there are other things to consider; namely, the scheme fit between Atlanta’s systems and the players’ skillsets. Drake London has been dubbed by many as a ‘perfect’ scheme fit with Arthur Smith’s offense. But are there any others? Ted Nguyen of The Athletic is a legit film junkie, who lives to dissect football on a molecular level. Most recently, Nguyen put out a piece of his favorite scheme and player fits, with two Falcons making the list.
1. Drake London, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Play style: True X who can win deep and create after the catch
Scheme: Outside zone/duo scheme, heavy play action
The Falcons are building a fun group of skill players on offense. Last season, they unlocked one of the most unique weapons in the NFL, Cordarrelle Patterson, and re-signed him in the offseason. Kyle Pitts, the fourth pick of the draft last year, looks like he could ascend to a top-five tight end. Now, they added a true X receiver in Drake London, who can beat press, win deep and make contested catches. A big component of Arthur Smith’s offense is taking shots off of hard play-action fakes. Although London isn’t a burner, he was able to win deep with his physicality running through defensive backs and beating them at the catch point. A.J. Brown won in a similar fashion for Smith when the Falcons head coach was calling plays for the Titans. Additionally, London will get moved around and play some slot in Smith’s offense. He has experience doing that at USC.
“If you’re going to be a team that motions or you’re going to play in certain condensed splits, especially on early-down, you’ve seen (London) go inside the numbers,” Smith explained after drafting London. “You know … a lot of guys … they only play one position. Some of these offenses, they only stay on the same side. It does give you a lot of confidence as much as we like to move different formations, different personnel groups. You see him run the routes that we’d ask him to run inside.”
Playing inside in Smith’s scheme means he’ll be asked to actually get involved in blocking in the run game — not just stalk blocking outside but he’ll get used as an insert blocker on strong safeties and linebackers. Corey Davis was great in this role for Smith in Tennessee. Though London isn’t an overwhelming blocker, he’s an effective and willing one. USC got him involved in the run game as an inline blocker in some creative ways and he handled that role well. His ability to block in the box will be indispensable in the Falcons’ outside zone and duo schemes.
7. Desmond Ridder, QB, Atlanta Falcons
Play style: Aggressive pocket passer with athleticism to run read-option
Scheme: Outside zone/duo scheme, heavy play-action
Desmond Ridder was the only quarterback from this class that I had a first-round grade on but likely fell due to inconsistent accuracy. He checks all the boxes everywhere else: height and athleticism (4.55), he’s a winner and he’s shown that he can operate at a high level in a pro-style offense in which he changed protection, audibled and executed in the dropback game.
He shares some traits with Ryan Tannehill, who Smith had success with when he was the offensive coordinator for the Titans. One of Ridder’s standout traits is how aggressive he is looking to attack downfield within the structure of the offense. Smith wants to take deep shots off of hard play action, so having a quarterback who will let deeper routes develop and hit them will be crucial. Ridder has breakaway speed but he doesn’t use it to create in the dropback game, he wants to stay in the pocket. But his speed is useful in the designed quarterback run game in which Smith has experience calling for Tannehill.
Obviously, you want a quarterback with a higher ceiling than Tannehill. Ridder’s high-level football IQ might ultimately decide his ceiling but his accuracy might be his downfall. However, his accuracy issues seem overblown when you watch the film and look at more advanced metrics.
Highest % of “accurate/on-target” throws on passes of 5+ air yards in the FBS in 2021, per @PFF:
3. Kenny Pickett (61%)
6. Desmond Ridder (59%)
10. Matt Corral (57%)
35. Carson Strong (50%)
43. Sam Howell (48%)
57. Malik Willis (45%)
— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) April 26, 2022
I talked with a quarterback coach who believes that Ridder can be more consistent with his accuracy if he fixes a flaw in his backstroke. Regardless, I love Ridder’s fit in Smith’s offense, which will utilize play-action shot plays and boots to get him on the edge. Incumbent starter Marcus Mariota is better right now but if the Falcons want to accelerate Ridder’s development, he could start Day 1.
Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire