Is C.J. Stroud in Play for Atlanta After His Top-30 Visit?

The Atlanta Falcons continue to do their due diligence on the 2023 NFL Draft quarterback class as they host arguably the top-ranked quarterback for a visit. However, is Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud truly in their plans, or are the Falcons pulling another one of the many smokescreens seen during NFL Draft season?

C.J. Stroud Visits With Falcons on a Top-30 Visit

Widely expected to go either first or second overall during next week’s NFL Draft, C.J. Stroud is meeting with a team he hadn’t previously been associated with in the past. Mike Garafolo NFL Network reported that the Falcons hosted the Ohio State QB on a visit on Wednesday.

Atlanta has the No. 8 overall pick, and while it is assumed that Stroud will be long gone by then, Atlanta is conducting due diligence. Bryce Young has become the overwhelming favorite to go first overall to the Carolina Panthers, and there have been a few reports suggesting that the Houston Texans might not be as high on Stroud at No. 2 as some might imagine despite his prolific career for the Buckeyes.

However, it must be remembered this is smokescreen season. While there may be some validity to the Texans’ rumors, I would continue to take everything with a grain of salt this time of year.

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At the same time, Atlanta is absolutely smart to bring Stroud in for a top-30 visit, as they would need extreme conviction to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick for Stroud.

Who knows? Maybe they’re just getting in some early scouting in case the division-rival Panthers draft him.

Stroud has been busy making the rounds since the 2023 NFL Combine. He joined Kentucky QB Will Levis in visiting the Panthers on Tuesday. Additionally, he also worked out for the Indianapolis Colts and met with the Texans, Detroit Lions, and Las Vegas Raiders.

It has also been rumored that the Tennessee Titans are high on the Big Ten prospect and could be a potential candidate to watch should he slide beyond the top two overall selections, as they may want to make a run at the No. 3 pick (currently held by Arizona Cardinals).

Desmond Ritter Is Prepared To Start in 2023 If Given the Opportunity

Don’t get me wrong: The shiny new toy is always the one you want to play with. But having gone five straight seasons without a playoff appearance, the Falcons know every decision they make is crucial.

After Atlanta moved on from veteran quarterback Matt Ryan in a trade with the Colts before last season, veteran Marcus Mariota was initially signed to bring leadership and stability to the position. Still, he struggled on the field, completing 61.3% of his passes for 2,219 yards with a 15-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio, leading the Falcons to a 5-8 record.

MORE: List of Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft Picks

Atlanta handed the keys over to former Cincinnati standout QB Desmond Ritter, who the Falcons selected with the 73rd pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. An unpolished rookie option, Ridder served as the backup after head coach Arthur Smith named Mariota the starting quarterback to open the season.

On Dec. 8, the Falcons benched Mariota naming Ridder the starting quarterback for the rest of the season. He made his Week 15 debut against the New Orleans Saints, against whom he went 13 of 26 for 97 yards. He finished his rookie season with 708 passing yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions, an 86.4 passer rating, and 64 rushing yards.

Despite Outside Noise, Ridder Views Himself as QB1

Ridder has seen the headlines stating the team should pursue a starter. “Yeah, I do have a TV in my house,” Ridder said. “So I see that sometimes.”

Despite the lack of reps under center, Ridder views himself as a leader for the Falcons, expressing the feeling is mutual between himself in the organization.

They told me that they trust me, and they see what I do out on the field,” Ridder said. “They see my leadership, and that’s important. I’m just going to continue to be myself, be who I am, be the leader I can be, and go out there and just keep proving myself.”

Ridder is entering his second year with the mindset of being a starting quarterback in the NFL. He told reporters on Tuesday that he’s considered himself the starter since the Falcons made the decision to promote him last year.

“Week 14, whenever that was, and going through the bye week, that’s when I was told then,” Ridder said, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “From that point on, it was just going into the offseason, myself just taking it as if you’re the starter… That was my mindset from as soon as I stepped on the field for the first time down in New Orleans, was to obviously take it and run with it.”

But the last time I checked, confidence and statements in the media didn’t put points on the scoreboard or wins in the stat columns. Continued development, making the right decisions, and maximizing your talent do that. And so far, Ridder’s ceiling remains as massive of a question just as it was this time last year when he was still a draft prospect.

Are the Falcons willing to pass up on a potential top-tier talent like Stroud if the opportunity arises? Are they that sold on Ridder? That’s something we’re not going to know until draft night. However, it must be noted that there’s a third quarterback in play who everyone appears to view as an afterthought.

Taylor Heinicke Is Arthur Smith’s Insurance Policy

The Falcons signed former Washington Commanders QB Taylor Heinicke as a free agent this offseason. Heinicke provides the Falcons with a quality backup, as he registered 1,859 yards, a 62.2% completion percentage, and 12 touchdowns in nine games for the commanders in 2022.

While it has been very clear that Heinicke is viewed as the backup, he has had some magical moments, including nearly knocking off Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round of the 2020-2021 NFL Playoffs just a few weeks before the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Heinicke will be nipping at Ridder’s heels.

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Heinicke has shown poise in the pocket, a solid arm, the ability to escape when necessary, and even the toughness to play through injuries. He’s the type of guy players love to play with, as shown in his previous spots.

Although relying on Heinicke isn’t something the Falcons want to do, as they would prefer that Ridder progresses to the point where they don’t need to turn to a backup, Heinicke will be there to steady the ship if needed. If that happens, the Falcons will be prime contenders to attack a loaded 2024 QB class featuring Caleb Williams, Drake Maye, J.J. McCarthy, Quinn Ewers, and Shedeur Sanders.

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