The Atlanta Falcons’ gamble to keep Matt Ryan has already ensured a sour ending to the Matt Ryan era and an ugly beginning for whatever follows.
The matt ryan age is a risk that has already ensured a sour ending to the Matt Ryan era and an ugly beginning for whatever follows.
The notion of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan tossing touchdown passes to former Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts every week seemed like a nightmare for the rest of the NFL, at least on paper.
After the Falcons chose Pitts, the 2020 John Mackey Award winner, fourth overall in the NFL draft in April, reality should have set in. Instead of planning for life beyond Ryan, the Falcons’ new leadership took a decision that is already backfiring.
The Atlanta Falcons could already be kicking themselves for choosing Kyle Pitts so early in the NFL Draft in 2021.
To be fair to Pitts, he’s only played four games in a career that may end up earning him a bronze bust in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Florida native is undoubtedly skilled enough to one day walk the stage in Canton, Ohio.
Pitts isn’t to blame for entering the NFL with such lofty goals. In the Falcons’ first four games, he had 15 receptions for 189 yards and didn’t drop a single ball Ryan threw his way.
So, what exactly is the issue, you may wonder? The Falcons are 1-3 and seem to be on the verge of missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. Atlanta gave up a league-worst 128 points in four games, averaging just 19.5 points per game. Only seven teams, including the hapless New York Jets, have scored less points per game through Week 4.
The Falcons would be 0-4 right now if it weren’t for the New York Giants’ late-game blunders in Week 3. Despite all of the positive press surrounding Pitts’ entry into the draft, he cannot rescue this offense right now.
Atlanta didn’t do a good job of preparing for the inevitable quarterback change.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan should be furious with his team’s late draft picks | Getty Images/Kevin C. Cox
Based on what we’ve seen in the first three weeks of the season, it seems the Falcons didn’t understand that having a very skilled rookie offensive weapon only gets you so far when your quarterback situation isn’t optimal. Ryan is 36 years old and has a lot of experience, even though he has appeared competent in recent years.
Ryan, to his credit, completed 67.9% of his throws for 990 yards, eight touchdowns, and three interceptions in the first four games of the season. The TD-INT ratio looks much clearer after a four-touchdown effort against the Washington Football Team in Week 4.
Pitts is the kind of guy a club selects in the first five rounds when they think they have found a franchise quarterback. Although conventional wisdom advises against choosing tight ends and running backs so early in the draft, clubs may get away with it when it seems like the wealthy are becoming wealthier.
The issue isn’t that Atlanta chose Ryan over Ohio State’s Justin Fields or Alabama’s Mac Jones as their short-term quarterback. Why not choose Oregon offensive tackle Penei Sewell, who went three selections after Pitts, or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater if the Falcons were prepared to ride with Ryan for another year or two? The Falcons could have moved down and still gotten Slater, who was chosen 13th overall by the Chargers.
Again, the Falcons will have to replace Ryan at some point. It would make more sense to sign Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral in 2022, knowing that the club has already fixed its offensive line.
Instead, the Falcons took a chance and selected a tight end in the fourth round. When the offensive line is continually collapsing, Corral will enjoy throwing Pitts his way.
In 2018, the New York Giants made a similar error with Saquon Barkley.
The fact that other clubs have lately given precedent in comparable circumstances may be the worst aspect of the Falcons’ decision to select Pitts. Take a look at the New York Giants’ second-round selection of Penn State running back Saquon Barkley in 2018.
Barkley, the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career. He also joined a club that lacked a long-term quarterback strategy when Eli Manning retired. The club made the mistake of going with a running back instead of a quarterback who could grow with Manning or perhaps Notre Dame guard Quinton Nelson.
Barkley missed the playoffs in each of his first two seasons with the Giants, and he only played in two games in 2020 before injuring his ACL. Daniel Jones, a first-round pick in 2019 who took over for Manning early in the season, has failed to cement his position as the franchise quarterback. Nelson, who was chosen four selections after Barkley by the Colts, was named to the AP All-Pro team each year and started three postseason games.
The Falcons might have taken a page out of the Giants’ book and started planning for a return to their winning ways. Instead, in the next rounds, both clubs can anticipate to select very early.
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