Atlanta Falcons should find heir to Matt Ryan now

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

The Atlanta Falcons have enjoyed unprecedented success during the Matt Ryan era, but now is the time to look for someone to step in when Matty Ice is done.

Make no mistake, Matt Ryan is the Atlanta Falcons quarterback for the foreseeable future. The 10-year NFL veteran still has plenty of gas in the tank, but that doesn’t mean all is well in the Falcons quarterback stable.

With Ryan approaching the backside of his career, the Falcons need to work to avoid an interruption in service at the quarterback position, and the 2018 NFL Draft will be rich with young, talented prospects.

Why now? Because Atlanta can do something they’ve never had the opportunity to do during the 52-year history of the franchise – find and develop a strong young quarterback while a star veteran is in place. Add to that a list of potential draft picks such as Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold and others, and there may not be a better year to find a future play-caller.

The most successful quarterbacks in Atlanta Falcons history have either been veterans brought in from other teams (Chris Chandler, Jeff George) or young rookies who were rushed into service out of need (Michael Vick, Chris Miller, Matt Ryan, Steve Bartkowski).

Ryan was thrown to the wolves when he entered the league in 2008. The Falcons, out of necessity, had to subject their No. 3 overall pick to the trial by fire, and luckily for the Falcons, Ryan was up to the challenge.

But Ryan is the exception. Too often, untested rookies are sent into battle with all the confidence of a Jaime Lannister, but come out on the other side looking more like Theon Greyjoy.

The veteran Ryan – who holds practically every Atlanta passing record possible – still has unfinished business with the Falcons on the field, but training the quarterback who will eventually replace him needs to become part of his routine.

Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta Falcons /

Atlanta Falcons

Never before have the Falcons been able to stare at the quarterback luxury they have today. The Falcons could follow in the footsteps of successful franchises like the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, who had a plan for quarterback succession, and whose embarrassment of riches can’t be argued with.

Ryan – who recently graded out as the No. 2 quarterback in the league by Pro Football Focus – would be the ideal teacher for a fresh new face, along with recently hired quarterbacks coach, Greg Knapp.

Who the Falcons pick would be another story. With so many talented quarterbacks entering this year’s draft, it would seem impossible to swing-and-miss altogether.

In years past, the Falcons have drafted some late-round quarterbacks in hopes of finding an undiscovered gem – perhaps the next Tom Brady – without much success.

It was a zero-loss gamble for Atlanta to look at guys like Sean Renfree (a 7th round pick in 2013), or to take a shot with undrafted free agents such as Dominique Davis or Seth Doege. The risk was minimal, and had one of them panned out the payoff could have been huge, either on the field or the trading block.

But now the stakes are real. Atlanta has shuffled through a dozen or more backup quarterbacks during Matt Ryan’s ten years with the team, and the position needs to be once again an area of focus for GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn.

Atlanta needs to make themselves a three-quarterback team – Ryan, a veteran backup, and a young heir to Ryan’s position when the time comes – because the luxury of having a guy like Matt Ryan around to not only lead your team but also help develop his heir doesn’t happen often.

If the Falcons don’t play this one well, they’ll end up like the Miami Dolphins or Buffalo Bills, still searching for Dan Marino and Jim Kelly replacements over 20 years later.