Super Bowl offers hope that Falcons can find good quarterback lower in draft

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) sticks his tongue out while walking on the field after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore. (Emily Curiel/The Kansas City Star/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) sticks his tongue out while walking on the field after defeating the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 in the AFC Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, in Baltimore. (Emily Curiel/The Kansas City Star/TNS)

No NFL team had Patrick Mahomes or Brock Purdy as its first choice to be quarterback when they came out of college and look at them now. Kansas City’s Mahomes is a two-time league MVP trying to win a third Super Bowl in his fourth try Sunday in Las Vegas. San Francisco’s Purdy will attempt to add a championship to his underdog story.

Falcons supporters should be heartened by this development. The Falcons won’t get their pick of the best prospects in the draft, which is the best way to find a good quarterback. But maybe they can do better with a quarterback that other teams overlooked. It takes luck to win in the NFL and, after two years of mucking up their QB situation, maybe the Falcons can catch a break.

The odds are low that the Falcons can cash in on a long shot as the 49ers did with Purdy. Purdy was a four-year starter at Iowa State and then famously was the last player selected in the 2022 draft, No. 262 overall. Purdy still might be on the bench if Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo hadn’t sustained serious injuries during his rookie season.

The Falcons have a more realistic chance of drafting a good quarterback with the No. 8 pick. That’s two slots higher than Mahomes was picked in 2017. Mahomes produced video-game numbers in Texas Tech’s wide-open offense, but was considered a fringe first-round prospect before impressing scouts during pre-draft workouts. The Chiefs swapped the No. 27 pick for Buffalo’s No. 10 pick to select Mahomes.

The Falcons might not even need to trade up in April’s draft to nab a good prospect. It’s deeper in quarterbacks than the 2017 draft. The Falcons could try to sign a free agent, but the pickings are slim. And while I believe Justin Fields is a fine option for the Falcons on the trade market, making that deal would come with more risk than just drafting a QB.

Assuming the Falcons don’t acquire a veteran, they likely will be able to choose a good prospect with the No. 8 pick. They can forget about USC’s Caleb Williams, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and North Carolina’s Drake Maye. The teams picking 1-2-3 need a quarterback, and so do several other teams that will be looking to trade up.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. is a plausible alternative for the Falcons. He’s an accurate passer with a quick, if unconventional, release. Penix’s draft value has been depressed by his injury history. But Penix started 28 games during two seasons at Washington while setting program records and finishing as Heisman Trophy runner-up behind Daniels in 2023.

Bo Nix and J.J. McCarthy are the other two second-tier QB prospects. You may remember Nix struggling at Auburn, but he got away from that mess of a program and blossomed into a star at Oregon. Michigan won last season’s national championship with McCarthy. He didn’t throw much, but he’s a good athlete with a strong arm.

I don’t know which of the quarterback prospects in this draft will end up being good. I do know the chances are good that teams that draft one within the first five picks will end up being happy with the choice. Quarterback prospects selected within the top five picks have fared well since the league expanded to 32 teams for the 2002 season.

There were 33 quarterbacks who fit the criteria from 2002-23. Only three of them were outright busts, by which I mean no more than one year as an average starter or better: JaMarcus Russell, Terrelle Pryor and Sam Darnold. It’s too soon to say with recent draftees Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Anthony Richardson. If none of them work out, that still would mean 82% of the QBs drafted in the top five became competent starters or better for more than one season over the past 22 years.

That history is one reason why the Falcons must consider trading up in the draft. If they do so, it doesn’t mean they will pick the right guy. It does increase their chances. Among the 180 quarterbacks drafted outside of the top five of the draft since 2002, 83% were busts.

Mahomes is the best of that bunch. The only other contender is Aaron Rodgers, a four-team NFL MVP. But Rodgers, 40, has one Super Bowl victory in one appearance. Mahomes, 28, already has two victories in three tries, and the Chiefs are only two-point underdogs Sunday.

Only one of the nine teams that passed on Mahomes drafted a quarterback. The Bears took Mitch Trubisky with the No. 2 pick. He would go on to have two good seasons as their starter. After the Bears gave up on Trubisky, they drafted Fields with the No. 11 pick in 2021.

Maybe it wouldn’t have turned out the same for Mahomes if he’d been drafted by the Bears or some other bad team. Kansas City won the AFC West with Smith as the starting quarterback in 2017 and did it again in 2018. Mahomes lifted the Chiefs another level to Super Bowl contenders.

Mahomes told reporters in Las Vegas that he’s impressed with how Purdy responded when circumstances forced him to play as a rookie.

“I don’t think I would have been ready my first year to come in and play like that,” Mahomes said.

If the Falcons draft a quarterback, they most likely will need him to play right away. They aren’t as good as the Chiefs were when they drafted Mahomes. The Falcons don’t have a terrible roster, though. Good quarterback play is the main thing they were missing in 2023.

The Super Bowl quarterbacks are proof that the Falcons can improve the position even if they don’t pick near the top of the draft.

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