Falcons have to be tempted by this QB draft class

A look at 10 quarterbacks who will likely draw attention of NFL teams in the 2021 draft.

While Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask share Mercedes-Benz Stadium for Saturday’s SEC Championship game, it will be only natural to imagine one or the other dressed in the costume of the stadium’s anchor tenant.

And if the Falcons’ Matt Ryan keeps gifting his league with interceptions — three ugly ones Sunday in San Diego, eight in his past six games — it likewise will become tempting to imagine him dressed as a retiree. I see him being able to totally pull off the plaid shorts/black socks/sandals look.

This unsettling Falcons season has featured more muttering about Ryan’s future than any other, by far. At 35, he has invited talk about grooming a replacement with this latest run of bad throws, bad decision-making, bad pocket presence and a general drop-off that makes him appear older than he really is. He’s suffering from that middle-age male malady of low TD (fewer touchdowns than interceptions the last month and a half).

Intersecting with that is a particularly enticing season for quarterbacks in the draft. So enticing, that Jones and Trask, a top pair of Heisman Trophy candidates, are not even among the top four most desirable QBs on most experts’ lists.

As a result, here lie the Falcons in a fascinating position — prone but with options. Even if they have squandered the opportunity to lose enough to draft the two best college quarterbacks available — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State’s Justin Fields — the current market is forgiving. There are other seemingly quite capable choices within their grasp.

Enough that you even wonder, if fortune should for once smile on them, the Falcons could go ahead and take their traditional edge rusher in the first round and still have a Trask or a Jones there, beckoning, when they pick in the second. It’s a risk to wait, but you figure the Falcons are overdue for a break, right?

Awaiting the team’s new GM and coach is a momentous decision: When to begin the inevitable transition from Ryan to the next-gen quarterback? After all, Ryan’s a soldier in the cruel march of time, just like us all. Whenever the Falcons do begin the transformation behind center, it is going to be a scary journey into the unknown. Ryan has been just so darn dependable. It may not go smoothly. It may be painful, just like any other major organ transplant. But it will be necessary.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan returns to the sidelines after a failed 4th-down attempt to Julio Jones during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Saints won 21-16. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan returns to the sidelines after a failed 4th-down attempt to Julio Jones during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Saints won 21-16. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Among the flock of mock drafts, one or two have the Falcons going quarterback in the first round, taking North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. All I know about him is that he’s 6-foot-4, ran wild last season through the FCS for 1,100 yards and threw 287 passes that season without an interception. The scouting public seems quite taken by him, enough that it is scarcely bothered by the fact the Bison played only one odd game in 2020 (in which Lance was fairly ordinary), North Dakota State opting to play the balance of its schedule in the coming spring.

Also getting a first-round grade is BYU’s Zach Wilson, who seems to be zooming up the charts. Some dare say he is challenging Fields for that coveted just-behind-Lawrence position. Personally, I can neither confirm nor deny, as I can’t stay up late enough to watch the Cougars play.

Then there are our combatants in Atlanta this weekend, Messrs. Trask and Jones. High among their qualifications is what both did to Georgia this year, almost mirror images of dream-wrecking. Both threw for more than 400 yards; both threw for four touchdowns against a defense reputed to be formidable.

Neither has the wealth of raw athletic ability of Lance. Jones, in fact, keeps getting painted with the mild slander of “game manager.” Florida coach Dan Mullen did it again this week. To which Jones, demonstrating his calm under fire, laughed it off. “I mean, coach (Nick) Saban would probably say the same thing about me,” Jones said. “I try to manage the game. I obviously have a lot of great players around me. That’s my job, just get them the ball, try to hold onto the ball, not give the other team the ball.”

Given his position at Alabama, Jones already has the experience of playing with an NFL roster. Any transitional trauma going to the Falcons would be minimal — if he could just adjust to a lesser running game than what he knows now.

Hardly in keeping with the modern mold of quarterback, Trask is not the most mobile fellow. But at least the Falcons would require little adjustment of their current play sheet to accommodate that. As a matter of fact, Trask in the pocket has a very steady look about him, a little like a beefed-up Ryan.

If the Falcons were to invest in a quarterback this offseason, they’d be playing a long game. His weighty contract practically demands that Ryan be in the team’s plans next season, at least. On that score, both Trask and Jones are experienced at waiting their turns. Patience is a foundation of both men’s stories.

On Saturday, those two will be playing for a whole lot more than an audition for the 2021 Falcons back-up role. A conference championship and a Heisman Trophy are at stake. Still, one can — and will — dream.

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