Falcons have decades of experience at drafting quarterbacks

After trading Matt Ryan, team looking for its next franchise quarterback

FLOWERY BRANCH — Why is drafting a quarterback so hard?

The Falcons got it right in 2008, when they elected to take Matt Ryan over Chad Henne and Joe Flacco.

The Falcons, who hold the eighth overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft, which is set for Thursday through Saturday, have heavily scouted the quarterbacks this offseason, and with the trade of Ryan, they don’t have a franchise quarterback on the roster.

They could elect to pick a quarterback in this draft, which will consist of 262 picks – including 39 compensatory picks – and tie 2003 for the most in the draft since the NFL went to the seven-round format in 1994.

The first round will be held Thursday, the next two Friday and the fourth through seventh Saturday.

“Obviously, we are not going to give away what we are going to do at eight or any other pick, but we could come out of this draft with a quarterback,” Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said Tuesday. “We want to add to that room. We’ll see what happens.”

Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and North Carolina’s Sam Howell are widely considered the top-five quarterbacks in the draft.

“We don’t know where these quarterbacks slot in and where they’ll end up going,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “It provides a lot of intrigue. We might not have those star stars that we’ve had the last couple years up at the top, but I don’t believe we’ve ever had more intrigue than we do this year with this draft.”

While the Falcons signed Marcus Mariota after trading Ryan to the Colts, he is not widely viewed as the quarterback of the future after losing his job in Tennessee and being a reserve for the past two seasons with the Raiders.

The Falcons have several executives who have successfully drafted quarterbacks and some who have witnessed drafting busts up close and personal.

Some of the successes include Ryan, Trent Dilfer, Matt Schaub and Kirk Cousins.

Some of the busts include Jake Locker, Robert Griffin, Cade McNown, Mitchell Trubisky and Dwayne Haskins.

“There are a lot of variables that happen,” Falcons coach Arthur Smith said. “Why guys are successful and why they are not. A lot of it is fit when you are taking a player, especially taking a quarterback, really any place in the draft, to make sure that you have a plan.”

“I think for all the potential inaction up at the top of the draft, I think we could see a lot of action toward the bottom, especially as it pertains to the quarterbacks. I think that's where the value is."

- NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah

Fontenot, Smith, vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith and director of college scouting Anthony Robinson are the key players for the franchise as they’ve elected to move on from the Ryan era.

Also, longtime scouts Ruston Webster, who started as a scout in 1988, and Phil Emery, who started his NFL career in 1998, have seen a lot of quarterback evaluations over the years and are former general managers, along with Ryan Pace, who was hired as a senior personnel executive Feb. 24.

Webster was with Tampa Bay from 1988 to 2005 when they drafted eight quarterbacks, including Dilfer sixth overall in 1994. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1997 and finished with a 58-55 record as a starter.

Dilfer helped the Ravens win Super Bowl XXXV over the Giants.

The Bucs also drafted quarterbacks Todd Hammel (1990, 12th round) Pat O’Hara (1991, 10th round), Mike Pawlawski (1992, eighth), Craig Erickson (1992, fourth), Shaun King (1999, second), Joe Hamilton (2000, seventh) and Chris Simms (2003, third).

Webster was with Seattle when it drafted Mike Teel (2009, sixth) from Rutgers.

Fontenot was with the Saints from 2003-20, and they drafted four quarterbacks over that period. He was a young scout when the Saints drafted Adrian McPherson in 2005 in the fifth round.

In 2006, the Saints solved their quarterback position by signing Drew Brees in free agency.

The Saints drafted Sean Canfield (2010, seventh round), Garrett Grayson (2015, third) and Tommy Stevens (2020, seventh).

Pace also was with the Saints from 2001-14.

The Saints drafted quarterback J.T. Sullivan (2002, sixth round).

Pace was the Bears’ general manager from 2015-21. He traded up to draft Trubisky No. 2 overall in the 2017 draft when Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were available. After whiffing on Trubisky, the Bears were back in the quarterback business last season. They traded up to select Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick.

Pace was fired after last season.

Arthur Smith was with Washington when it selected quarterback Jordan Palmer out of Texas-El Paso (2007, sixth round) and Colt Brennan (2008, sixth).

When Smith was with the Titans (2011-20), they drafted Locker (2011, eighth overall), Zach Mettenberger (2014, sixth round), Mariota (2015, second overall), Luke Falk (2018, sixth round) and Cole McDonald (2020, seventh).

Locker, who played at Washington, was a bust with the Titans and retired with a 9-14 record as a starter. Mariota was benched in his fifth season. He posted a 29-32 record with the Titans.

Mariota will get a chance to start for the Falcons this season and could mentor a newly drafted quarterback.

Kyle Smith was with Washington when it drafted two quarterbacks in the same draft. He was in the nation’s capital from 2011-20.

In 2012, they traded a bushel of picks to move up to draft Griffin with the second overall pick. Later, in the fourth round, they drafted Michigan State’s Cousins.

Washington also drafted quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld (2016, sixth round) and Haskins (2019, 15th overall).

Griffin went to the Pro Bowl as a rookie but faded quickly. He was 16-26 as a starter and finished his career as a backup in Baltimore.

Haskins, who died recently while walking on a South Florida interstate, was cut in his second season and was trying to resurrect his career with the Steelers.

Robinson was an intern with the Ravens in 2006. He’s been with the Falcons since 2008. The Falcons have drafted only two quarterbacks during his tenure – Ryan (third overall) and Sean Renfree (2013, seventh round).

Emery, a national scout with the Falcons, was with the Bears when they drafted McNown 12th overall in the 1999 draft. Quarterbacks Tim Couch, Donovan McNabb and Akili Smith went one, two and three.

Daunte Culpepper went 11th to the Vikings right before McNown.

Emery was with the Bears when they drafted Rex Grossman (2003, first round). He was with the Falcons when they drafted Schaub (2004, third), D.J. Shockley (2006, seventh) and Ryan.

There’s a scenario where the quarterbacks slip to the back of the first round.

“I think for all the potential inaction up at the top of the draft, I think we could see a lot of action toward the bottom,” Jeremiah said, “especially as it pertains to the quarterbacks. I think that’s where the value is.”

If the Falcons decide to take a quarterback, they have plenty of history to lean on to make their decision.

Falcons executive Kyle Smith was with Washington when it drafted quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in 2012. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Credit: Alex Brandon

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Credit: Alex Brandon

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