It’s been a little over a month since the Atlanta Falcons traded away Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts after 14 seasons as the face of the franchise. Ryan is out and former No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota is in line to start for the Falcons in 2022.
Mariota signed a two-year deal in March, but the long-term future of the quarterback position is something that must be addressed sooner or later. The 2022 NFL draft is less than a week away (April 28-30), and fans have been debating whether or not Liberty QB Malik Willis is worthy of Atlanta’s first-round pick.
Here are five reasons why the Falcons should pull the trigger on Willis if he’s on the board at pick No. 8.
The potential of landing a franchise QB is worth the risk
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Drafting the best player available is a simple concept, but the quarterback position makes this philosophy a little bit more subjective. For example, three quarterbacks came off the board with the first three picks of last year’s draft, but they weren’t considered the top three overall prospects. And even Trevor Lawrence, who was considered the No. 1 overall player, wasn’t anywhere close to being the top rookie last season.
Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase had a way better year and is arguably one of the top five players at his position, while Lawrence would barely crack the top 25 quarterbacks in the league after his underwhelming first season.
Does this mean the Jaguars regret taking Lawrence? Not at all because having a top-five QB is worth its weight in gold in the NFL. Quarterback is a position that requires patience, which means accepting you are likely passing on more pro-ready prospects by drafting one. It’s a risk you simply have to take.
Highest upside of any QB in draft
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
When it comes to the QB position, it makes more sense to go for the prospect with the higher ceiling as opposed to the higher floor. When you’re filling one of the 32 most-coveted jobs in the entire world, you target the guy with Patrick Mahomes-level upside, and that’s Malik Willis in this draft.
Hoping a sixth-round pick will develop into Tom Brady is not realistic, nor is assuming you will strike gold and find a mid-round pick like Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson. Obviously, Willis has some legitimate flaws in his game. He’s not a can’t-miss prospect by any means and must make better decisions as well as see the field better.
However, he’s the best quarterback in this draft class and his enticingly high ceiling should be enough to edge out some of the higher-rated non-QB prospects likely to be available at the No. 8 pick.
Mariota is perfect bridge QB
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Super Mario’s two-year contract is perfect for Atlanta’s situation. He’s a low-risk option who’s still got some upside. Plus, Mariota is a good teammate whose ego won’t be threatened by the team drafting a rookie. It wouldn’t be some contentious Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers situation, it would be more like the Jimmy Garoppolo-Trey Lance situation in San Francisco.
Mariota has experience with Arthur Smith from their time together in Tennessee, and while there won’t be much will be expected of the former Hesiman Trophy winner, it’s not like the Falcons are going to be upset if Mariota ends up playing so good that Willis doesn’t get on the field.
Willis fits the Falcons’ timeline
(AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Willis is probably not the most pro-ready prospect since he’s coming out of Liberty. If we’re being realistic, though, Atlanta probably won’t be very good this season so finding guys that can contribute right away shouldn’t be as high of a priority compared to other teams who are closer to contending.
Since Willis needs some time to adjust to the NFL game, Atlanta can afford to sit him for a year and build up the rest of the roster. If the team were to pass on Willis and a top QB doesn’t fall into their laps again next year, as many seem to assume, that means Atlanta wouldn’t have its next QB in place for at least another two seasons.
By drafting Willis, the front office would be giving the team a clear long-term direction, which should have always been the plan after moving on from Matt Ryan.
It’s acceptable to lose in the NFL when there’s a clear plan in place. If Smith and Fontenot spin their wheels in the dirt for another year or two without finding a QB, the team could soon be looking for a new head coach and general manager.
If not now, when?
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
The Falcons passed on Justin Fields, and while nobody is suggesting Kyle Pitts was a bad pick, how many years does the team expect to be in position to land a top quarterback? While I do expect Atlanta to have another top-10 pick next season, the team can’t afford to pass on a chance to take the best quarterback in the draft without having to trade up.
Willis is almost universally viewed as a first-round talent and there’s no guarantee the Falcons will have a better option in 2023. Plus, Atlanta has four picks on day two of the draft, so it’s not like the team would be mortgaging its future.
Next year’s draft class is always greener. This phenomenon is what made the Jets replace Sam Darnold with Zach Wilson only to have similar results. It wasn’t long ago when Spencer Rattler was projected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft and now he’s playing for a different school.
There are no guarantees when it comes to drafting a quarterback. There’s a great level of risk involved and there are always going to be misses.
At some point, though, you’ve got to take a swing.
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