The NFL Draft Class of 2022 doesn’t appear to be as strong at the quarterback position as last year when five quarterbacks went in the first round.
But Malik Willis out of Roswell, Ga. and most recently Liberty University garnered a lot of attention after Senior Bowl week in Mobile, Ala.
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan will enter the 2022 season at 37-years old, and whether you are in the camp that Ryan needs a replacement or not, a good Malik Willis is good for the Atlanta Falcons.
The first of Atlanta’s picks in the upcoming draft is No. 8 overall. Having an option at quarterback whether it’s Willis, Matt Corral of Ole Miss or Kenny Pickett of Pittsburgh will make the Falcons pick more valuable for several reasons.
First, If they fall in love with one of the quarterbacks, and he’s available at No. 8, the Falcons have their quarterback of the future (presumably). The Atlanta could elect to move Ryan and get some draft capital in return or have him sit and learn behind Ryan for a year before it’s more financially feasible to offload Ryan.
Second, if one or more teams above Atlanta in the draft fall in love with Willis, it pushes more premium position players down in the draft. The Carolina Panthers are in the market for a quarterback, and if they think they have their man, that’s one more team that won’t be taking Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley, NC State offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu, or maybe even edge rushers Kayvon Thibodeaux or Aidan Hutchinson of Oregon and Michigan respectively.
The Falcons should be able to come out of this draft with an impact player at a premium position. One of the top edge rushers, cornerbacks, or offensive tackles should be available at No. 8. Having a quarterback go ahead of the No. 8 pick will give the Falcons more options when they are on the clock.
Finally, the Falcons could get the best deal trading down if there is a quarterback worth trading up to get. The Falcons will need to get a good deal to move out of the No. 8 spot, and the best deals involve teams trading up to take quarterbacks.
There isn’t a quarterback in this class that’s going to fetch the three first-round bounty the Dolphins got from the 49ers last year to take Trey Lance at No. 3. But the Bears sent two first-round picks, a fourth and a fifth to the Giants to take Justin Fields at No. 11.
The Giants ironically pick one-spot ahead of the Falcons at No. 7 courtesy of the Bears trade.
Would the Falcons be tempted to move back 10 spots for a 2023 1st round pick and some throw-ins?
They should be. Adding a player like Desmond Ridder of Cincinnati after the first round might make more sense in 2022. Taking advantage of a deep draft class in the trenches with a trade down could address a lot of problems on the offensive and defensive lines.
For it to happen, they’ll need Willis to continue his good work during the pre-draft process, Kenny Pickett must bounce back from a ho-hum week at Senior Bowl, and/or Matt Corral must wow the scouts at his pro day in March.
The Falcons may not be ready to go quarterback in this draft when the Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud are lurking in 2023, but they’ll be hoping Willis and his classmates force their way into Top 10 consideration.
NFL Draft Order:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars
2. Detroit Lions
3. Houston Texans
4. New York Jets
5. New York Giants
6. Carolina Panthers
7. New York Giants (from Chicago)
8. Atlanta Falcons
9. Denver Broncos
10. New York Jets (from Seattle)