Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis: The quarterbacks

Editor’s note: This is the first of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp July 27.

After electing to re-set the franchise at the top, perhaps the Falcons’ biggest offseason decision was the restructuring of quarterback Matt Ryan’s contract, which signaled his return for the foreseeable future and buttressed new coach Arthur Smith’s assertion that he’s trying to win now and not rebuild.

The Falcons, who report for training camp July 27, elected to stay with the quarterback with the most wins in franchise history and the only player in franchise history to win the NFL’s MVP award.

Ryan, who turned 36 in May, is back for his 14th season.

“Transition requires a lot of effort and a lot of work to learn the new system to make sure that you’re as comfortable as you can possibly be with the terminology,” Ryan said. “And what they expect for you, there are always nuances in different schemes and how coaches like certain things.”

Smith, who’s coming over from Tennessee, where he had running back Derrick Henry, does not plan to have Ryan drop back 40 times a game.

The Falcons’ offensive line has not held up in pass protection over the past three seasons. In 2020, Ryan was sacked 41 times, hit 71 more times and hurried 55 times for a pressure number of 167, which ranked 24th in the league.

Over the past three seasons, Ryan has been sacked 131 times, hit 167 times and hurried 164 times for total pressure number of 462.

Smith will call the plays for the Falcons, while Dave Ragone was hired as the offensive coordinator. Charles London is the new quarterbacks coach, while T.J. Yates was hired as the passing-game specialist.

“I’ve been working really hard to try to get on the same page with them,” Ryan said. “Dave and Arthur have been great. I’m excited about the future and hopefully winning a bunch of games.”

Ryan has studied Smith’s offenses in Tennessee.

“I have a bunch of coaches that I’ve played for (that) have worked with him, and all of them speak really highly,” Ryan said. “Who he is as person. Who he is as a football coach. He comes highly recommended from a lot of people that I trust.”

Former Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, who were with the Falcons when Ryan broke into the league on Mike Smith’s staff in 2008, went on to Tennessee and worked closely with Arthur Smith.

“They had a lot of success in Tennessee,” Ryan said. “They did a great job there.”

While the Falcons traded Julio Jones to the Titans, they added tight end Kyle Pitts in the draft. He was selected with the fourth overall pick, and the Falcons used the offseason to get him ready for NFL action.

“He’s worked really hard,” Ryan said. “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him.”

Pitts was the highest pick among tight ends ever in the NFL draft. Expectations for his play are high. He’s the most talented player at the position for the Falcons since Tony Gonzalez finished his stellar career in 2013.

“Tony was a first-ballot Hall of Famer,” Ryan said. “Arguably the best to ever do it at his position. Certainly, he was the first guy to really change the position into what it is now. So, that’s a lot to live up to, and I wouldn’t want to put that pressure on anybody. I think for Kyle, the biggest thing is worrying about getting better.”

After the trade of Julio Jones on June 6, Ryan declined, through a team spokesman, to address how the offense will move forward without the prolific pass catcher. Ryan elected to stand by his comments when he found out Jones’ trade was imminent.

“I don’t know,” Ryan said about possibly playing without Jones. “He’s been such a cornerstone of what we’ve done for a long time. I don’t know. That’s a hypothetical (at that time), and I don’t really want to go down that road. Not really my business. He’s been just such a great player.

“He’s a hell of a teammate. I love him, and we’ll see how things shake out. He’s probably impacted my career more significantly than any other player. I’ve been really fortunate to be around him for as long as I have.”

Behind Ryan, Matt Schaub retired after last season. The Falcons signed veteran journeyman AJ McCarron and after the draft signed former Arkansas and Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks.

“He’s a vet,” London said of McCarron. “He’s seen a lot. He’s been to the playoffs before. We were excited to bring AJ on board.”

Franks, who’s 6-foot-6 and 228 pounds, transferred to Arkansas as a graduate student in 2019 after losing his starting job with the Gators following an ankle injury.

He started nine games for the Razorbacks and completed 163 of 238 passes for 2,107 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2020.

“Feleipe has a really unique skill set,” London said. “He has a big arm. He’s a really athletic guy. He had traits that as an offensive staff we were excited about.”

Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis:

Part 1: Quarterbacks

Part 2: Running Backs

Part 3: Offensive line

Part 4: Special Teams

Part 5: Wide receivers/Tight ends

Part 6: Defensive line

Part 7: Linebackers

Part 8: Secondary

Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:

OFFENSE

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Tajae Sharpe, 88 Frank Darby, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

WR 14 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 12 Chris Rowland, 82 Austin Trammell, Jeff Badet

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 William Sweet, 72 Willie Beavers

LG 68 Josh Andrews, 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 62 Bryce Hargrove

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 67 Drew Dalman, 65 Joe Sculthorpe

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Ryan Neuzil, 75 Kion Smith, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 77 Jalen Mayfield

TE 8 Kyle Pitts, 81 Hayden Hurst, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 30 Qadree Ollison, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 90 Marlon Davidson, 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 93 Zac Dawe, 94 Deadrin Senat, John Atkins

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, Shareef Miller

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland, 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 49 Kobe Jones, George Obinna

RCB 22 Fabian Moreau, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 21 Duron Harmon, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 39 T.J. Green, 38 Marcus Murphy

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 12 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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