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Bair Mail: On Marcus Mariota's opportunity, Malik Willis at No. 8, drafting a running back in 2022 NFL Draft

We also discuss taking a top tackle early in this Wednesday mailbag


The pro day circuit is almost done. The top 30 visits are underway and draft boards are rounding into shape heading into the 2022 NFL Draft.


We're getting ever closer to the Falcons selecting at No. 8 overall, and it's clear the anticipation is high for who that prospect might be. There's a fair amount of intrigue surrounding Marcus Mariota, the presumptive Falcons starting quarterback at this stage of the NFL offseason.

We dive into all that and more in Wednesday's mailbag. Let's dive right into it.

Calvin Lum from Phoenix, Ariz.

I love watching Mariota thru out the years. He is an electric player when He has the ball, don't know what he'll do with it. Too bad he had a lot of different coaches in his first 4 years in the NFL. Do you think he would've been a different player if he had a steady coach when he first came out?

Bair: I do, Calvin. So much of quarterback success is the organization you go to and the coaching you get. There are tons of super-talented quarterbacks who were busts after being put in bad situations. Others were nurtured and developed and consequently thrived.

Mariota had so many coordinators early on, so it's fair to say stability may have helped. He was the No. 2 overall pick for a reason, and was a truly electric college player now super motivated to make the most of a second chance to be a full-time starter. I think this pairing with Arthur Smith – despite the fact he was Titans OC in 2019 when Mariota got benched – will be a good thing. He fits scheme to player strengths, without expecting it the other way around.

Real question that we can't answer until closer to the season: Does he have enough help to thrive? Even a mobile quarterback needs protection. Even an improvisational passer needs receivers creating separation. Time will tell on that front, but it's an important storyline to follow. I've talked to several who worked with him at the Raiders – I covered them for a long time – and they're optimistic he'll make the most of this chance. I am, too.

Calum Ewing from Newnan, Ga.

Would you rather draft a running back this year to complement Patterson (Like Freeman and Coleman did) like Kenneth Walker or Dameon Pierce, or would you wait until next year and get Bijan Robinson, who I see as a generational prospect? He could replace Patterson full time in Year 2, as Cordarrelle will probably retire after that last year of his contract. However, if we are going to tank for a QB next year, we'd probably need another FRP to get Robinson. With the QB question, what if Mariota proves to be a great QB? What would we do then if we have the opportunity to take Bryce Young or CJ Stroud? Bijan?

Bair: I think now is the time to draft a young running back. I also don't think the first round is the place to take one in any year. I like Kenneth Walker and Dameon Pierce and Breece Hall and Isaiah Spiller. There are good options in the middle rounds of this draft to go get a young runner. The Falcons don't have one outside Qadree Ollison right now.

If Mariota pans out positively and the Falcons no longer have a quarterback need – I also think that's a relative longshot – go with the best defender or receiver or right tackle you can find.


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JC Daniel from Savannah, Ga.

Scott, if Malik Willis does go to the Panthers, we can get to the business of building the basis for a strong team. We yawned at getting a second pick for Julio and a third-round pick for Ryan but we now have five picks in the first three rounds. Assuming Willis is gone, who would be your magic five if you got to pick them? If Willis isn't gone, what do you do since we already have Mariota? I have a good feeling about Mariota getting the job done, not just as a stop gap. Shouldn't we wait to see what he does? What if he shines but we have drafted Willis?

Bair: I don't think the Falcons should take a quarterback whether Malik Willis is available at No 8 overall or not. A group of five I really like at 8, that could be available:

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux

2. Sauce Gardner

3. Charles Cross

4. Kyle Hamilton

5. Drake London

Those are the five because I assume Travon Walker won't make it that far. Some of my five won't either, and Garrett Wilson was another heavy consideration for the select group you requested.

Jake Stevens from Gainesville, Ga.

With there being a few tackles that may potentially be available. How would that fit us? We just extended Mathews and the top lineman play left tackle as well. Is that transition from left to right capable at the next level? And what do you think about that?

Bair: I'm definitely open to going with a tackle early, though it's possible Ickey Ekwonu, Evan Neal and Charles Cross will all be gone by the No. 8 pick. At that point, are you taking Trevor Penning that high? Ehh. Good player, but I'm not sure about that one.

In terms of versatility, Neal as played tons of right tackle. Ekwonu has played tackle and guard and analysts say he can play anywhere. Cross has only played on the left, I believe, has been a left tackle almost exclusively. Penning showed some versatility at the Senior Bowl.

I don't think Jake Matthews' presence (and recent extension) would impact whether the Falcons add another offensive tackle, especially a top talent.

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