Cover 9@9: Should the Falcons tank for Caleb Williams?

USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) and head coach Lincoln Riley on the sideline during the Trojans' spring scrimmages at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on April 23, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
USC quarterback Caleb Williams (13) and head coach Lincoln Riley on the sideline during the Trojans' spring scrimmages at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on April 23, 2022, in Los Angeles. (Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

1. The no-spin zone: Welcome back to the Cover 9@9 blog. We’ve been on a little offseason hiatus.

With the rookies reporting Tuesday and the veterans July 25, it’s time to get the laptop fired back up.

In between games of Madden, watering the garden and trips to the gym, I found an article by Brent Sobleski on Bleacher Report to be a bit shocking.

He included the Falcons among teams who should consider tanking the 2023 season to get in position to draft USC quarterback Caleb Williams. There were other articles that included tanking for North Carolina’s Drake Maye.

The Cardinals (who have quarterback Kyler Murray), Raiders (Jimmy Garoppolo) and the Vikings (Kirk Cousins) were the other three teams mentioned in the Bleacher Report article.

The notion is preposterous.

The Falcons had chances to tank over the past two seasons, but battled to 7-10 records with less-talented rosters. Coach Arthur Smith knows winning is the name of the game, and letting a losing mentality creep into the locker room would be fatal to any long-term success.

Williams is considered the top quarterback prospect who likely be available in the 2024 draft. Maye also is putting together a fine career for the Tar Heels.

The Bleacher Report writer believes the Falcons fumbled the ball while moving away from long-time signal-caller Matt Ryan. “This year’s Atlanta Falcons will serve as a case study of what or what not to do at the quarterback position,” he wrote.

In the 2021 draft, the Falcons passed on quarterbacks Justin Fields and Mac Jones. Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were taken before the Falcons selected tight end Kyle Pitts fourth overall.

After losing the Deshaun Watson derby to Cleveland in the 2022 offseason, the Falcons traded Ryan to the Colts. They signed Marcus Mariota.

In the 2022 draft, the Falcons passed on Kenny Pickett and took Desmond Ridder in the third round. The Mariota experiment didn’t go well, and Ridder was handed the keys to the car with four games to go last season.

In the 2023 draft, Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson were drafted before the Falcons picked running back Bijan Robinson with the eighth overall pick. Kentucky’s Will Levis was the next quarterback taken, in the second round with the 33rd overall pick.

The Bleacher Report writer apparently doesn’t think that Ridder can get the job done.

“(Falcons GM Terry) Fontenot and Co. can’t operate as if a recent third-round pick is the solution to their problems. If Ridder tears it up during his sophomore campaign, that’s great. But the organization must currently look at the best possible path toward winning championships, which is upgrading at quarterback by any means necessary.”

If things go sideways with Ridder, the Falcons will be back in the quarterback market. They likely will have to do like the Panthers, who traded up to get Young. They would have to mortgage part of the future to trade up for Williams or Maye.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

2. Falcons ranked 26th by ESPN: Placing the Falcons at 26th, ESPN writers Mike Clay and Seth Walder have the team ahead of only the Bucs, Titans, Texans, Colts, Rams, and Cardinals.

Their article called the Falcons’ strongest unit their defensive line, where they added several key pieces in the offseason – including DT David Onyemata and DE Calais Campbell.

The weakest unit, according to ESPN, is the QB spot. (Apparently, there are not a lot of Ridder fans out there on the internet.)

“Atlanta is undoubtedly building around its run game, and that was evidenced by its failure to upgrade on 2022 third-round flier Desmond Ridder.”

3. Falcons ranked 26th by PFF: The folks at Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons, who have had five consecutive losing seasons, as having the 26th best roster in the NFL.

4. 5 position battles for training camp: Working on a story on the five position battles to watch during training camp.

Here’s what’s in the notebook for now:

LG- Matt Hennessy versus Matthew Bergeron

WR2- Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, KhaDarel Hodge and Frank Darby: Someone has to step up opposite of Drake London. It could be Cordarrelle Patterson sliding back to play more wide receiver with the drafting of Robinson.

ILB- Kaden Elliss, Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker. Don’t sleep on Dorian Etheridge.

RCB- Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes and Clark Phillips. The plan is to put Okudah back together again. If this resurrection project is successful, the defense will be much improved.

PR- With Avery Williams going down, this is one of the biggest holes on the roster. Penny Hart, Josh Ali, Dee Alford and Mike Hughes were mentioned as possible candidates by Smith.

6. Tampa Bay to wreck some things: Another article that caught my attention was when Tampa Bay’s Carlton Davis said the post-Tom Brady Bucs are ready to “wreck” stuff this season.

The Bucs do have remnants of a good defense, but who can take them seriously with Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask as the quarterbacks?

They lost too much and appear headed back to the Josh Freeman days.

7. Projected NFC South starting QBS: Here’s the breakdown.

-Derek Carr, Saints: 63-79 (seven of nine losing seasons and four Pro Bowl selections)

-Baker Mayfield, Bucs: 31-38 (four of five losing seasons)

-Desmond Ridder, Falcons: 2-2

-Bryce Young, Panthers: 0-0

8. Training-camp rookie access: There are nine teams that have their rookies and veterans reporting at the same time.

The Falcons are in the group of 23 teams that have the rookies report first (Wednesday) and the veterans July 25.

There is no media access to the rookies until the veterans come.

We are monitoring which teams are media friendly and allow some form of access to the rookies.

So far, we know that Falcons, Giants and Broncos don’t have any access during the rookie period. That must change.

The rookies and vets report together for the Cardinals, Cowboys, Texans, Colts, Rams, Jets, Eagles, Steelers and Seahawks.

9A. 8-part Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis:

Part 1: Running backs

Part 2: Offensive line

Part 3: Wide receivers/tight ends

Part 4: Defensive line

Part 5: Thursday: Linebackers

Part 6: Friday: Secondary

Part 7: Saturday: Special teams

Part 8: Sunday: Quarterbacks

9: Depth chart: The AJC’s projected depth chart for training camp.


QB – Desmond Ridder, Taylor Heinicke, Logan Woodside

RB – Tyler Allgeier, Bijan Robinson, Cordarrelle Patterson, *Caleb Huntley, Carlos Washington Jr.

FB – Keith Smith, Clint Ratkovich

WR – Drake London, KhaDarel Hodge, Frank Darby, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Chris Blair

TE – *Kyle Pitts, Jonnu Smith, Parker Hesse, Feleipe Franks, *John FitzPatrick, Tucker Fisk

LT – Jake Matthews, Barry Wesley

LG – Matt Hennessy, Kyle Hinton, Matthew Bergeron, *Jalen Mayfield, *Justin Shaffer

C – Drew Dalman, Ryan Neuzil, Jonotthan Harrison, Jovaughn Gwyn

RG – Chris Lindstrom, Jovaughn Gwyn

RT – Kaleb McGary, Tyler Vrabel, Joshua Miles, Ethan Greenidge

WR – Mack Hollins, Scotty Miller, Slade Bolden, Josh Ali, Keilahn Harris, Xavier Malone


OLB – Lorenzo Carter, Bud Dupree, DeAngelo Malone

DE – Grady Jarrett, Timothy Horne, LeCale London

NT – Eddie Goldman, *Ta’Quon Graham, Carlos Davis

DE – David Onyemata, Joe Gaziano, Ikenna Enechukwu, Albert Huggins

OLB – Calais Campbell, Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, Zach Harrison

ILB – Kaden Elliss, Dorian Etheridge, Tae Davis, Andre Smith Jr.

ILB – Troy Andersen, Mykal Walker, Nate Landman, Mike Jones Jr.

CB – A.J. Terrell, Mike Hughes, Clark Phillips III, Breon Borders, Natrone Brooks

FS – Jessie Bates III, Jaylinn Hawkins, Micah Abernathy, Lukas Denis

SS – Richie Grant, DeMarcco Hellams, Clifford Chattman

CB – Jeff Okudah, Cornell Armstrong, Tre Flowers, Dee Alford, Darren Hall

NB – Mike Hughes, Clark Phillips III, Dee Alford


K – Younghoe Koo, Matthew Trickett

P/H – Bradley Pinion

LS – Liam McCullough

PR – Mike Hughes, Dee Alford, Penny Hart and Josh Ali.

KOR – Cordarrelle Patterson. Carlos Washington Jr.

Note: Players who ended the season on injured reserve have an asterisk.

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