Assessing the Falcons’ 2022 draft needs after bye week

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The Atlanta Falcons were one of four teams to get a bye in Week 6, the earliest of the 2021 season. While it’s nice to get an early break, it also means the Falcons will have a brutally long stretch of games to end the year — the length as a normal college season — without a bye week.

Even though there’s plenty of football left to be played, here’s an early look at the Falcons’ 2022 draft needs based on the first five games of the year.

Quarterback

(AP Photo/Steve Luciano)

When looking at the Falcons’ quarterback situation, there’s not much to unpack considering there is no future direction in sight. The team has two young quarterbacks on the roster, but neither player is likely to be the franchise guy going forward. With Matt Ryan in place, though, Atlanta has time to sort out the future of the position. There has yet to be any indication on how long Ryan will remain the starting QB, but how the Falcons handle his $48 million cap hit next offseason will be a major tell. Either the team must sign a true backup during free agency, or draft one. Below is my preliminary list of the five best quarterbacks to consider.

Early QB Prospects:

  1. Desmond Ridder / Cincinnati

  2. Matt Carroll / Ole Miss

  3. Carson Strong / Nevada

  4. Jake Haener / Fresno State

  5. Kenny Pickett / Pittsburgh

Wide Receiver

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Falcons have issues at the wide receiver position. As of right now, Calvin Ridley and Frank Darby are the only two under contract for the 2022 season. Going past Ridley, the Falcons don’t have a true number two. As suspected early on in the offseason, Russell Gage has failed to properly fit into this role by his inability to stay healthy and produce when he is on the field. A lot of Gage’s success in the past was from defenses shifting focus to other offensive weapons. However, as teams place less emphasis on slowing Ridley this year, Gage hasn’t be able to create the separation he needs. Maybe this changes with emergences from Kyle Pitts and Cordarrelle Patterson, but the team should be looking at every option, including a possible trade.

Ridley is set to earn $11 million next season with his fifth-year option, however, an extension is looming and the Falcons aren’t in a good position financially to give him the kind of money he would command on the open market. Here’s a look at some of next year’s receiver prospects.

Early WR Prospects

  1. Justyn Ross / Clemson

  2. Greyson Burks / Arkansas

  3. John Metchie / Alabama

  4. George Pickens / Georgia

  5. Drake London / USC

Cornerback

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of A.J. Terrell, cornerback is a position desperately in need of a talent upgrade. Given the financial conundrum that Terry Fontenot is in, the Falcons aren’t likely to address this in free agency. During the 2021 offseason, Atlanta signed free-agent CB Fabian Moreau, who’s been rather hit or miss this season — with a lot of misses. The Falcons would be selecting 12th in the 2022 NFL draft, which is a sweet spot for finding corners without overdrafting them.

Early CB Prospects

  1. Derek Stingley Jr. / LSU

  2. Kaiir Elam / Florida

  3. Ahmad Gardner / Cincinnati

  4. Noah Daniels / TCU

  5. Andrew Booth Jr. / Clemson

Safety

(AP Photo/Ian Walton)

It’s way too early to refer to a 2021 draft selection as a bust, but if Richie Grant is unable to get on the field over the remaining 11 weeks of the season, then the Falcons may have made a mistake. Grant has only been featured on 10 percent of defensive snaps through the first five weeks. To add, only 15 percent of those select snaps were taken at safety. So, even if Grant were to see an increased role in the secondary, the chances are slim that we will see him take significant snaps as the deep safety.

Early S Prospects

  1. Kyle Hamilton / Notre Dame

  2. Lewis Cine / Georgia

  3. Bubba Bolden / Miami

  4. Jordan Battle / Alabama

  5. Tykee Smith / Georgia

Edge Rusher

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Just like at safety, the two starting edge rushers for the Falcons in 2021 will be free agents in 2022. With very little money to put into this position during free agency, this should be an area of focus for next year’s draft. However, given the history of Atlanta and drafting edge rushers, the pessimism will always be there in that regard. Hopefully this changes under the new regime.

Early EDGE prospects

  1. Kayvon Thibodeaux / Oregon

  2. Aidan Hutchinson / Michigan

  3. Drake Jackson / USC

  4. Adam Anderson / Georgia

  5. Kingsley Enagbare / South Carolina

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