With his performance on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, second-year quarterback Kurt Benkert has become one of the key Falcons players to follow this preseason.
Taking over on the Falcons' fourth offensive series, Benkert looked decisive and energized behind center. His first throw of the game was a 16-yard completion for a first down, and his third pass attempt went for 21 yards and another first down.
Benkert completed six of his first nine passes for 68 yards and jolted the Falcons offense awake after a slow start, but his best stretch of the game came just before halftime.
Atlanta faced a second-and-10 from its own 39-yard line when Benkert took off for a 17-yard run. Two plays later, Benkert found Christian Blake for a 15-yard gain, moving the ball to the Broncos' 29-yard line. On second down, he hit Olamide Zaccheaus for 17 yards and followed it up with a 14-yard rope to Shawn Bane at the goal line. Benkert capped off that great drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Brian Hill.
"I thought Kurt did a good job on a two-minute drill at the end of the half," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "That felt good and excellent."
That one series alone featured a number of really impressive throws by Benkert. The drive Benkert got on the ball helped him zip it into tight windows. Benkert completed 19 of his 34 attempts – a number of drops skews that number a bit – for 185 yards and the one touchdown pass.
Benkert left the game early in the fourth quarter due to a toe injury and did not return.
Currently the No. 3 quarterback on the Falcons' roster, Benkert's performance on Thursday will certainly raise questions about his chances at backing up Matt Ryan this season. To achieve that, Benkert would have to convince Atlanta's coaching staff that he's a better option than veteran Matt Schaub.
The severity of Benkert's toe injury – especially if the second-year pro out of Virginia ends up missing valuable playing time in the preseason – will obviously factor into that decision-making process as well.
Schaub started the game for Atlanta and returned after Benkert left with the injury, he finished the game 4-of-14 for 10 yards with one interception.
Benkert spent the 2018 season on the Falcons' practice squad. Atlanta's third-string quarterback worked in the team's developmental program throughout the year, and he showed some real improvement. Benkert's 185 passing yards are the most he's had in a game with the Falcons thus far, topping his previous high of 125 yards.