Editor’s note: This is the sixth of a 10-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before the start of training camp.
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is the NFL’s first $30 million man.
He’s the top paid player in the league because the Falcons valued his steady leadership and winning ways, which include a franchise-record six playoff trips.
After becoming the first Falcon named the NFL’s most valuable player in 2016, Ryan’s stats dipped last season.
There were several factors for the statistical drop as he tried to guide the team through the thick fog of a Super Bowl hangover and the psychological peaks and valleys after losing the league’s biggest game in historic fashion.
To help Ryan get back on track, Falcons coach Dan Quinn hired veteran quarterbacks coach and former offensive coordinator Greg Knapp.
When the Falcons report to training camp on July 26, Knapp and Ryan will start working to revive the offense.
Reasons for Ryan’s statistical dip could be attributed to the lack of explosive touchdowns, his wide receivers leading the league in dropped passes with 30, seven of his 12 interceptions were off the hands of his receivers and offensive line issues at both guard spots.
Ryan, who signed a six-year, $150 million contract extension on May 7, is set to enter his 11th season in the NFL. He was drafted third overall in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Falcons.
The former Boston College quarterback completed 342 of 529 passes (64.7 percent) for 4,095 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2017. He threw 18 fewer touchdown passes and five more interceptions. His 20 touchdown passes were his lowest since he tossed 16 as a rookie in 2008.
The Falcons know that Ryan is most effective when he can step up in the pocket and deliver the ball. With shaky play from guards Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland, Ryan rarely had a firm pocket.
Ryan was on the move too much. He rushed for 143 yards, the second-highest total of his career. He had 145 yards in the 2014 season.
Matt Schaub, who’ll turn 37 in June, played in four games and completed 1 of 3 passes last season. He’s set to enter the last year of his contract, which has a $2.75 base salary with a $1.5 roster bonus.
Knapp believes he can help and challenge Ryan to continue to play at a high level.
“I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been around a lot of veteran quarterbacks,” Knapp said. “When you work with a vet quarterback, it challenges you as a coach because they’ve had so much game examples and performance examples to pull back from. When you are giving them an idea or a thought, they might have recall for that or they may present something to me.”
Knapp, who was with the Broncos from 2013 through 2016, worked with the legendary Peyton Manning.
“There are always new concepts coming at you,” Knapp said. “Sometimes you get them from your peers in coaching, but some of the better ones come from the quarterback position because they get exposed to so many situations.”
Knapp also has a long history with Schaub, whom he calls his “football son.” They worked together in Houston and Atlanta. Schaub will provide additional support for Ryan.
“With two veteran quarterbacks in Matt and Schaubie and two young guys in Garrett (Grayson) and Kurt (Benkert) there is a constant coaching point that’s going on in the room,” Knapp said. “What goes on when the five of us are together, I’m coaching to the two Matts, and I’m referring to Kurt and Garrett, cause I’ve got keep them into it.”
Grayson and Benkert will get extra attention during the developmental time after practice. The Falcons call it their “Plan D” program.
“Dan does a great job here with the Plan D program where I have just the two young guys and I’m going to coach them a little bit differently,” Knapp said.
One the key lessons for Ryan was gleaned by Knapp from his time working with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young early in his career.
“Steve Young and was five years my elder,” Knapp said. “He taught me at a young age in this profession -- he was 36 and I was 31 -- he said you don’t need to teach me everything about this play. Teach me what I need to know so I can play fast.”
The Falcons paid Benkert a $60,000 bonus to sign with the team. It was the highest total of the undrafted rookies.
He’ll get some action in the exhibition season as the team may need a replacement for Schaub in the future.
“It’s hard with the colleges kids these days,” Knapp said. “They come out of the spread offense where there’s no play calling or it’s a hand signal. The biggest challenge for rookie quarterbacks over the last six years, no matter who I’ve had, is just getting them to regurgitate the terminology.
“You’ve got to call it out over and over again. That’s been his first challenge to go through. He’s coming along fine. It’s going to be slow, but he’s coming along fine.”
The Falcons are confident that Ryan and Knapp will work well together.
“There is a huge trust factor,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “It’s Matt trusting the information that he’s getting. With Greg Knapp walking in the room, there’s instant credibility with Matt. He’s done it.”
90-MAN ROSTER ANALYSIS
Part 1: Defensive Line
Part 2: Linebackers
Part 3: Cornerbacks
Part 4: Safeties
Part 5: Special teams
Coming Tuesday: Running backs
Here’s a look at the projected depth chart heading into training camp:
WR 11 Julio Jones, 18, Calvin Ridley, 14 Justin Hardy, 13 Reggie Davis, 86 Lamar Jordan, 16 Taj Williams
LT 70 Jake Matthews, 68 Austin Pasztor, 76 Daniel Brunskill
LG 67 Andy Levitre, 63 Ben Garland, 64 Sean Harlow, 75 Jamil Douglas
C 51 Alex Mack, 63 Ben Garland, 61 J.C. Hassenauer
RG 65 Brandon Fusco, 71 Wes Schweitzer, 62 Salesi Uhatafe
RT 73 Ryan Schraeder, 74 Ty Sambrailo, 77 Matt Gono
TE 81 Austin Hooper, 82 Logan Paulsen, 85 Eric Saubert, 89 Alex Gray, 80 Troy Mangen, 87 Jaeden Graham
WR 12 Mohamed Sanu, 17 Marvin Hall, 83 Russell Gage, 15 Christian Blake, 19 Dontez Byrd, 7 Devin Gray
QB 2 Matt Ryan, 8 Matt Schaub, 9 Grayson Garrett, 6 Kurt Benkert
RB 24 Devonta Freeman, 26 Tevin Coleman, 25 Ito Smith, 41 Terrence Magee, 32 Justin Crawford, 35 Malik Williams
FB 40 Daniel Marx, 43 Luke McNitt, 30 Ricky Ortiz
DE 98 Takk McKinley, 50 Brooks Reed, 79 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 96 Mackendy Cheridor
DT 99 Terrell McClain, 94 Deadrin Senat, 93 Garrison Smith,
DT 97 Grady Jarrett, 95 Jack Crawford, 92 Justin Zimmer, 99 Jon Cunningham
DE 44 Vic Beasley, 90 Derrick Shelby, 55 J’Terius Jones
WLB 42 Duke Riley, 54 Foyesade Oluokun
MLB 45 Deion Jones, 52 Emmanuel Ellerbe, 53 Emmanuel Smith
SLB 59 De’Vondre Campbell, 36 Kemal Ishmael, 56 Anthony Winbush, 49 Richard Jarvis
CB 23 Robert Alford, 20 Isaiah Oliver, 28 Justin Bethel, 33 Blidi Wreh-Wilson, 39 Deante Burton
CB 21 Desmond Trufant, 34 Brian Poole, 35 Leon McFadden, 43 Chris Lammons
NB 34 Brian Poole, 27 Damontae Kazee, 42 Tyson Graham, 30 Joseph Putu
FS 37 Ricardo Allen, 27 Damontae Kazee, 38 Marcelis Branch, 41 Jason Hall
SS 22 Keanu Neal, Ron Parker, 35 Secdrick Cooper
K 3 Matt Bryant, 1 David Marvin
KO 5 Matt Bosher
P 5 Matt Bosher
KR 14 Justin Hardy, 17 Marvin Hall, 30 Ito Smith
PR 14 Justin Hardy, 16 Reggie Davis
LS 47 Josh Harris
H 5 Matt Bosher