Bair Mail: On future of Falcons running backs, helping the pass rush, free agency needs, Calvin Ridley and trading up in NFL Draft

All those questions and more get answers in Wednesday's mailbag

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FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One game left. That's it.

Sunday's home game against the New Orleans Saints will rap this 2021 campaign, leaving plenty to discuss about progress made during Arthur Smith's first season as Falcons head coach and what needs to happen next in this Falcons quest for sustained success.

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There are plenty of moves to make, holes to fill before reaching that desired space, and that's the clear fan focus entering Week 18. That's clear in the mailbag, which has a big picture feel to it over breaking this final game down.

You all set the Bair Mail agenda, so that's what we discuss in this Wednesday mailbag. Let's get right to it and talk about the Falcons future, plus what Terry Fontenot can do to shape it well:

Kenneth Grantham from McDonough, Ga.

Granted the Falcons have numerous needs on both sides of the ball but I believe the team needs a stronger running back group. There have been several solid RBs in the 2021 draft and more in the upcoming draft. Will the Falcons address this need sooner rather than later?

Bair: I think they should. Cordarrelle Patterson’s in a contract year and Mike Davis has a year left but that it's not guaranteed. Both guys, it's fair to say, are on the back end of their careers. Can they key Patterson? That may depend on his market value. There's an opportunity to bring in a younger runner whether either of those guys are retained or not. When should they get that player?

Both Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith have worked with productive running backs drafted relatively high – Derrick Henry and Mark Ingram come to mind – but there are so many Falcons needs that it's hard to see one coming in the first few rounds. I still think a young runner's important, maybe as an accent piece as a rookie and more of a feature player down the line. That could come in the later rounds, where rushing talent has often been mined.

Guy Lenz from Lawrenceville, Ga.

Howdy Scott, I like the evil Matt Ryan, a few more taunting penalties is just what the doctor ordered ;^)

Just finished watching TJ Watt demolish the Browns and of course you know what I was thinking the entire time - Is there a TJ Watt clone in the 2022 draft and are we too far down in the 1st round to get him?

Bair: I think Matt Ryan swears and talks a bit more trash than we give him credit for, but he keeps it professional enough to stay away from flags. I think he was as surprised as anyone when one was thrown in Buffalo.

Now on to your question: I agree that finding an intimidating edge rusher is vital this offseason, and the first round of the NFL draft is a great spot to find one. The Falcons still have a decently wide range of draft slots available, depending on Sunday's result against New Orleans and others across the league.

Also, let's not forget that Watt was the 30th(!) overall pick. You can mine talent from any draft position. A pretty darn good one is likely available when the Falcons select, though a few top options will be off the board already.

Judy King from Smyrna, Ga.

Could you ask please give us an explanation on the ruling as well Matt run against buffalo was not considered a touchdown we never got an explanation. Nobody touched him because when he fell the ball went across the goal line. It's a new quarterback considered a running back once he starts running? Thank you

Bair: I'm re-racking this topic because so many have asked about it. I'll simply refer you to Tori McElhaney’s article on the matter, which sums it up perfectly.

Check out the best black and white images from the Atlanta Falcons and the Buffalo Bills game during Week 17 of 2021.

Ryan Murray from Wichita Falls, Tex.

Scott, love the column. Thanks for the great work you do. In your opinion, where's the biggest draft need and what is the biggest free agent need? I'd say draft defense, free agent O-Line. Interested to know your thoughts. Cheers!

Bair: We've gone over NFL draft needs a bunch in this one, but Ryan's question about free agent needs intrigues me when put in context of where the Falcons are with the salary cap. It's not a reach to say they won't be in play for elite free agent talent. So the question is where can the Falcons benefit from a veteran presence who wouldn't get paid a ton but could still make an impact on the field?

That's one to ponder. I think they'll need receiver help in that arena, especially if Russell Gage goes elsewhere. Maybe a right tackle or a cornerback or an edge rusher. Could they afford Haason Reddick from Carolina? Maybe Mario Addison's a veteran leader who could bring some juice and help Ade Ogundeji and a drafted player. Maybe take a flier on Will Fuller? There's plenty of time to explore those options this spring, and it's an interesting question to ponder as we move forward.

Aidan McLaughlin from New York, N.Y.

I know there's one more game left in the season, but after our defeat in Buffalo, I have all eyes on the draft. Is there any trade package that may include Calvin Ridley and a first round pick that can possibly land us a top 3 pick in this draft?

Bair: I don't know if trading up's the way to go here. Head coach Arthur Smith was asked for an update on Calvin Ridley and didn't have one. He's obviously not coming back this season, but it's uncertain what happens with him in the future. Also, the Falcons are at a state where trading down's more likely than anything. They want more picks and players, not less. Trading two for one isn't a good deal right now. If Ridley can return and contribute at his level and the Falcons get a solid player midway through the first round, that's a win.

Will Summerville, Ga.

Hi, Scott, let's talk about quarterbacks for a minute. We all know how much Matt Ryan has been hit in the last few years and that he'll most likely be back next year. With all that being said since there is no longer any hope of making the playoffs, why not sit Matt in the last game (even if it's with NO) and let Rosen and Franks play, sort of an audition for next year. Best case scenario, Matt's replacement is already on the roster and we won't have to use a high draft pick on one, with so many other needs. Your thoughts, Sir, and it's been great as a fan, to enjoy the work you and your posse have done for all of us this year.

Bair: I understand what you're saying, here Will, but Matt Ryan's gonna start on Sunday. For one, there's a playoff spot possibly at stake against the rival Saints. The Falcons won't concede that contest right away. And, in my opinion, Ryan's successor is not on this roster. He's still in college somewhere in this country. The Falcons have gotten a long look at Josh Rosen and Feleipe Franks in practice, and shorter looks in game. It might be worth bringing Rosen back in 2022, to give him a full preseason to make an impression, but I'd bet the next starting quarterback not named Ryan comes out of this NFL Draft or, in my opinion, the next one.

Call for questions

Let's fill up the mailbag one more time this regular season. Submit your questions right here for inclusion in Friday's Bair Mail.

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Falcons Final Whistle | A Postgame Podcast

Join Atlanta Falcons Insiders Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney and Kris Rhim as they breakdown the latest Atlanta Falcons game action and what it means for the team's success.

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