At 4-12 the Atlanta Falcons finished with their worst record since 2013. Three seasons later, the Falcons were in the Super Bowl.
Is this team capable of making that kind of leap? Probably not. The offensive stars of this Falcons team are towards the end of their careers. Matt Ryan will turn 36 in May and Julio Jones turns 32 next month. They have formed the greatest quarterback/receiver tandem in franchise history and one of the best in NFL history, but both are in the twilight of their career. This year’s NFL Draft is about winning the next decade, not the next two or three seasons. The Falcons missed the Ryan/Jones window, and it’s time to look to the future.
With the No. 4 overall pick, this is the highest the Falcons will pick since they took Ryan in the 2008 draft. As fate would have it, there are three quarterbacks rated as Top 5 picks coming out of the college ranks. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence appears to be off the board as the consensus No. 1 overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that leaves either BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields as possibly being available at the No. 4 pick.
If Fields is available, that’s the man the Falcons should draft, and frankly, the Falcons should make sure he’s available even if it means trading up to the No. 2 pick.
Many mock drafts, including Tankathon and CBS have Wilson going ahead of Fields, with CBS having Fields going no higher than No. 7 to the Lions. I’m more along the line of thinking of ProFootballNetwork’s Nick Farabaugh in that Fields could come off the board No. 2, especially after that display against Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semi-Final.
If you missed it, Fields took a nasty shot to the ribs from Clemson linebacker James Skalski who was ejected for targeting after leading with the crown of his helmet. The blow left Fields in understandable pain, but he still went on to have an incredible performance including this amazing 63 yard throw for a touchdown. Fields’ arm strength is on full display on this throw.
Fields has the talent, the intangibles, and being from Cartersville, Ga., a suburb of the ever sprawling Metro-Atlanta area, he would connect immediately with the Falcons community and fans.
But will Fields be available? The draft order is:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. New York Jets
3. Miami Dolphins from Houston
4. Atlanta Falcons
Jacksonville is taking Trevor Lawrence. Jaguars fans are already getting their Lawrence jerseys printed. There are questions whether or not the Jets will take a quarterback again after using a No. 3 overall on Sam Darnold in 2018, but at worst that makes them a trade candidate. Miami just drafted a quarterback in Tua Tagolaivoa, but like the Jets, that could make them a trade candidate for someone looking for a franchise quarterback.
It’s expensive to move up even a pair of spots in the draft, but to get a franchise quarterback, it’s still worth it. Would Matt Ryan have been worth an extra first round pick over the last decade? I say yes. Whoever comes as the new General Manager for the Falcons is sitting in a good position, but immediately has a difficult task. For me, the Who is easy. Justin Fields is the pick. But can you still get him at four? Do you need to trade up? What will that cost?
Those are big questions the new General Manager will have to answer relatively quickly with the draft on April 29th.