Editor's note: This is the first part of a series detailing each position group on the Falcons' 90-man roster.
FALCONS ROSTER PREVIEWS
The quarterback position has been one of the most stable on the Falcons' roster over the last several seasons. Matt Ryan has been firmly entrenched as Atlanta's starter since he was drafted in 2008 and Matt Schaub is back and figures to again by Ryan's primary backup for the fifth-straight season.
2019 returning production
Here are three things to know about the Falcons' quarterbacks heading into 2020:
1. Will Ryan's Year 2 magic continue?
Although Ryan and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter previously worked together in Atlanta from 2012-14, the coaching change last offseason was the fifth coordinator change Ryan has endured during his 12-year run with the Falcons. During the second half of his career, Ryan has had a noticeable jump in play during his second season working with an offensive coordinator compared to his first.
In his second year working with Kyle Shanahan, Ryan was the NFL's MVP and rebounded from perhaps the worst season of his career. In 2018, his second with Steve Sarkisian, Ryan again reached numbers similar to the ones he posted in 2016, and he had the second-highest passer rating of his career. Part of the reason the Falcons brought Koetter in was the comfort and familiarity between Ryan and him, but he supposedly has a new level of comfort in the type of offensive scheme the Falcons want to run.
Whether it's Ryan or Koetter, any improvement from the two offensive decision-makers will benefit the Falcons greatly.
2. Schaub still has value on and off the field
There's a vocal portion of the Falcons fan base that has clamored – pretty much every offseason – for the team to add a younger backup quarterback for Ryan, but Schaub has continued to prove he's worthy of the role. Although Ryan has been remarkably healthy throughout his career, he did miss one game last season due to injury. In his one spot start the 38-year-old quarterback completed a franchise-record 39 passes for 460 yards, which are the second-most in a single game in Falcons history.
That one game served as a reminder that Schaub still has enough in the tank to fill in for Ryan in a pinch if needed. Over the long haul, Schaub's value in the quarterback room and on the practice field is immense. He's one of the few quarterbacks in the league able to give Ryan veteran feedback and understand what it's like to be a multi-year starter in the NFL. He can offer insights that very few backup quarterbacks in the league can, which helps not only Ryan but the offense as a whole.
3. Benkert and Etling to vie for the third spot
With Ryan and Schaub firmly established on the depth chart, the Falcons have featured a variety of different competitions for the third quarterback spot in recent years. This offseason, Kurt Benkert and Danny Etling figure to be the primary competitors, and they both bring some desirable qualities to the table.
After spending the 2018 season on the Falcons' practice squad, Benkert put together a promising performance during Atlanta's first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. In the Hall of Fame Game, Benkert completed 19-of-34 pass attempts for 185 yards and a touchdown. He also sustained a toe injury in the game that forced him on injured reserved for the remainder of the season, but his play against the Broncos showed an enticing level of growth from his time on the practice squad.
With Benkert on injured reserve, the Falcons eventually claimed Etling off of waivers, who had been the New England Patriots' practice squad quarterback in 2018 but was transitioning to wide receiver before getting waived. One of the primary reasons Atlanta was interested in Etling was his ability to mimic dual-threat quarterbacks during practice sessions. He'll still offer that potential, but his improvement as a passer might ultimately determine Etling's chances to stick on the depth chart.