ATLANTA — If it wasn't already apparent, the Atlanta Falcons are in rebuild mode, especially after trading longtime franchise quarterback Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts this offseason.
The Falcons hold the No. 8 pick in this month's NFL Draft. So what should they do with it to kick off this rebuild?
On the A to Z with Mark Zinno podcast, part of the all new Locked On Sports Atlanta channel, Zinno and Locked On Falcons podcast host Aaron Freeman debated what Atlanta should do in the first round.
SUBSCRIBE to Locked On Sports Atlanta wherever you get your favorite podcasts, with shows including A to Z with Mark Zinno, Hard Hittin with Jon Chuckery and ATL First Days with Jarvis Davis and Tenitra Batiste.
While Zinno and Freeman agree that the Falcons will not be ultimately competitive next season, they have a difference of opinions on what the Falcons should do with their top 10 selection in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Falcons have quarterback Marcus Mariota expected to assume the starting role for next season, but they could consider drafting a rookie QB in the first round.
Freeman said on the A to Z with Mark Zinno podcast that Atlanta needs to build up their team before going to find their franchise quarterback of the future. He said that should come in the form of one of the draft's top pass rushing prospects.
“I think they probably need to go back to what their seemingly original plan was as recent as this year’s combine, where Arthur Smith said build up the roster and then go get the quarterback," Freeman said. "I certainly understand the desire for the team to address what is the most glaring issue which is who’s going to replace Matt Ryan. I think we agree that the Falcons are not going to be particularly good this season and next year’s quarterback class is significantly stronger.”
Zinno, on the other hand, believes the Falcons need to start their rebuild with a quarterback, citing how teams like Washington have built up their roster everywhere except QB, and it's burned them.
“I agree there are multipole holes in the roster they need to address. But you’re not going to get me off the point that whenever you’re doing a rebuild, you have to start at the quarterback position," Zinno said. "Look at the Washington Commanders. They built up their roster and the best they can do is 7-8-1 and start Taylor Heinicke in a playoff game.”
SUBSCRIBE to the Locked On Falcons podcast, your daily podcast covering all things Falcons. Free and available on all platforms
To take it even further, if said 2022 quarterback doesn't work out, Zinno said the Falcons shouldn't be afraid to do what the Arizona Cardinals did in 2019. They had just come off drafting QB Josh Rosen in the first round in 2018 and then replaced him with Kyler Murray when they had the top pick in the 2019 draft.
“I don’t think the Falcons should be afraid to do what the Arizona Cardinals did. If Malik Willis is there, and you like him, draft him," Zinno said. "Throw him to the wolves and see if he can play. If he can’t, guess what? Go draft another one. It’s not against the rules. The idea you have to draft a QB and stick with him is silly. You’re going to go why did you draft a quarterback, there’s no offensive line. Guess what? Joe Burrow didn’t have that either but you saw he could play.”
Freeman said he doesn't think Zinno is wrong, but says that's just not how he thinks NFL teams operate, or how the Falcons would operate unless there was a regime change, which neither of them expect.
“The reason why I have a hard time buying into the notion of getting that guy today is we see this time and time again in the NFL, where you put these young quarterbacks in bad situations, and the Falcons are not a great situation right now, and we know how that goes," Freeman said. "It’s very rare when a quarterback is going to come through that better.”
Zinno contended that Joe Burrow with the Bengals was able to show how he could play despite not having a good offensive line and then the Bengals were able to build around him and contend for a title.
“The question is, how long do you want to wait? If this is year zero, there’s no better year to draft a QB and let him play and see what he can do…The only guarantee you have if you wait until next year, is if you guarantee yourself the No. 1 overall pick, and you tanked…someone can jump in front of you if you don’t have the No. 1 pick and that’s the risk you deal with," Zinno said.
The NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 28 in Las Vegas.