The Falcons - yes, the Falcons - ace the NFL draft’s Day 2

Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. Cincinnati won 24-13. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

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Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) runs during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Notre Dame, Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in South Bend, Ind. Cincinnati won 24-13. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Credit: AP

Day 2 brought answers to questions spawned by Day 1. Were the Falcons aware their defense finished 32nd among 32 NFL teams in sacks? (And not a close 32nd, either. They had 18 sacks; Philadelphia, which was 31st, had 29.) Did they realize their roster included only two quarterbacks, neither of whom has started an NFL game lately? Had they forgotten that Matt Ryan, a Flowery Branch fixture since 2008, is now a denizen of the Hoosier State?

Answers: yes, yes and no.

Reaction from this sector: yay.

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For a while Friday night, it appeared the Falcons might tie a fluffy bow around that unassuming Round 3 draft slot they’d acquired from Indianapolis for Ryan. Round 2 passed, as had Thursday’s Round 1, without them taking a quarterback. Were they saving the moment for Pick No. 82?

Nope. With Pick No. 74, the Falcons took Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati. He was the second quarterback drafted, 53 selections having passed since Pittsburgh took Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh. Maybe this really is a historically tepid QB class. Still, a team with only Marcus Mariota and Feleipe Franks to alternate practice snaps is in howling need of another option.

Had they waited until Saturday’s Round 4 to pick a quarterback, we’d have said, “Why bother?” There are exceptions – Tom Brady, taken 199th overall in 2000 – but quarterbacks of worth aren’t often available beyond Round 3. Sure enough, Malik Willis of Liberty and Matt Corral of Mississippi went soon after Ridder. That was it. Days 1 and 2 saw four quarterbacks drafted. Some drafts see that many go in the first hour.

Ridder became the first non-Power 5 quarterback to lead his team to the College Football Playoff. He can throw it. He can run it. Depending on the source, he was a 2- or 3-star recruit, but he started 48 collegiate games, more than Willis and Corral combined. It’s possible Ridder will be starting here before long.

(Much is made of Falcons coach Arthur Smith’s shared history with Mariota. Maybe too much. Smith was the Titans’ offensive coordinator in 2019, when Mariota was benched after six games to make way for Ryan Tannehill.)

The Falcons took two defenders in Round 2. The first – edge rusher Arnold Ebiketie of Penn State – is considered a first-round talent. As he told reporters Friday night: “I’m the doctor of the pass rush.” The second was linebacker Troy Andersen of Montana State. With the Matt Ryan pick in Round 3, they took defensive end DeAngelo Malone of Western Kentucky and Cedar Grove High.

The Day 2 haul: one quarterback plus three defenders, one of whom has claimed his doctorate. (We should go easy on Ebiketie. He played at Temple under sultan of slogans Geoff Collins, now of Georgia Tech. Collins arrived for a recruiting visit with Ebiketie via helicopter.) “What a day for the Falcons,” gushed ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who opined that Ebiketie and Andersen “could be foundational defenders.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but it was a day Falcons-watchers needed to see. The newish administration of Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot had nice enough rookie seasons: Fontenot’s first draftee was Kyle Pitts, who’s great; Smith bled seven wins from a team outscored by 146 points. But Ryan was a major part of those seven wins, and the biggest move Fontenot/Smith have made – and might ever make – was parting with him.

The Round 1 choice of receiver Drake London wasn’t a bad pick per se. He could well be the best wideout in a class laden with wideouts. Also: Julio Jones is gone. Also: Calvin Ridley might have played his last snap as a Falcon. That said, those among us given to impatience were less than enthused about a first round that saw a rebuilding team leave unaddressed the weighty matters of quarterback and pass rush.

Day 2 of NFL draft 2022 always was going to a key moment for this rebuild. The Falcons took their four selections and made hay. Fontenot spent a Round 5 pick to move up five spots for Ebiketie, which is what an adroit GM does. The belief here has been that the Falcons did well to hire Fontenot/Smith. Rounds 2 and 3 stand as proof.

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