Ranking the 7 Falcons with the most to prove in 2022

Matt Urben
Falcons Wire

Whether or not you supported the Atlanta Falcons’ decision to move on from Matt Ryan, the trade provided long-term relief from the cap constraints that have held back this roster for years.

In the short term, the Falcons are clearly in transition with at least 10 new starters entering the fold. The 2022 season will be challenging for Atlanta, but it’s also an opportunity for this team to re-establish its identity.

We’ve ranked the seven players with the most to prove this year.

OLB Arnold Ebiketie

Penn State defensive end Arnold Ebiketie (17) forces a fumble by Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. Michigan defeated Penn State 21-17.(AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Finding that next star pass-rusher in Atlanta has been harder than tackling Michael Vick in his prime, but the team took another swing at it by trading up for Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie in the second round. The rookie should see plenty of playing time and has a chance to start this season. After letting free agents Dante Fowler and Steven Means walk, Ebiketie, Lorenzo Carter and Ade Ogundeji are set to battle it out for the two starting OLB spots. Can Ebiketie finally be the player to make fans forget about Takk McKinley, Vic Beasley and the many other pass-rushing ghosts of Falcons past?

Related:Falcons draft picks: Grades for Atlanta selections in 2022 NFL Draft

OL Jalen Mayfield

Mayfield was thrown to the wolves as a rookie and definitely took his lumps. The third-round pick out of Michigan must improve in pass protection — the area where he struggled most in 2021. Mayfield did show some promise as a run-blocker as the season went along. Since Atlanta added very little competition at the left guard spot, the job appears to be Mayfield’s to lose for the time being. However, if he doesn’t show progress this season, the Falcons will have the money to upgrade the position in free agency in 2023.

DL Marlon Davidson

Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith gives defensive lineman Marlon Davidson a pat on the helmet to encourage the defense during a first half time out against the Cleveland Browns in an NFL preseason football game on Sunday, Aug. 29, 2021, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Marlon Davidson, the former second-round pick out of Auburn, has yet to really make an impact during his first two seasons in Atlanta. His rookie year was slowed by injuries and the fact that the team fired head coach Dan Quinn after an 0-5 start. Davidson played a career-best 270 snaps in 2021, but he will have competition from players like Ta’Quon Graham, Anthony Rush and Nick Thurman. Plus, the Falcons just gave a three-year extension to Grady Jarrett. We wouldn’t write off Davidson just yet, however, the third-year lineman needs to separate himself from the pack this season.

DB Richie Grant

Richie Grant wasn’t the first rookie defensive back to struggle and he certainly won’t be the last one. Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees opted to go with a more veteran group in the secondary last season as he installed his scheme. Grant was drafted as a safety but played more at the nickel spot in 2021. Atlanta let Duron Harmon walk in free agency and signed former Lions safety Dean Marlowe. Grant still has plenty of upside, but he will have to earn Pees’ trust in order to get on the field more in 2022.

OT Kaleb McGary

FILE - Atlanta Falcons guard Chris Lindstrom (63) moves in to block New York Jets defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) while Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Kaleb McGary (76) looks for someone to block during an NFL football game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on Oct. 10, 2021. The Falcons have picked up right guard Chris Lindstrom's $13.2 million fifth-year option while declining the option on right tackle Kaleb McGary.(AP Photo/Steve Luciano, File)

The Falcons declined McGary’s fifth-year option, while picking up fellow 2019 first-round pick Chris Lindstrom’s option back in May. McGary still has potential but needs to produce with more consistency if he wants to remain in Atlanta beyond this season. The team signed Elijah Wilkinson and Germain Ifedi, so McGary is entering training camp with some legit competition. Perhaps the extra motivation of playing for a contract will bring the best out of the former Washington standout this year.

WR Drake London

Atlanta could have gone in a number of different directions with the eighth overall pick, but ultimately the team went for the draft’s top wide receiver in USC’s Drake London. It’s hard to argue with the pick considering Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley and Russell Gage are all out of the picture. London should be the team’s No. 1 WR from Day 1, which is a bit unusual for any first-year player. Can London be the second straight Falcons rookie to rack up 1,000 receiving yards, or will the pressure be too much for the former Trojans wideout?

High Risk, High Reward:Drake cashes $335,000 betting slip when Falcons make Drake London NFL draft's first WR

QB Marcus Mariota

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota hydrates during NFL football practice Thursday, May 26, 2022, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

More:Falcons QB Marcus Mariota willing to be mentor but hungry to start

Every starting quarterback is under pressure, but Marcus Mariota is in the unique position of having to replace a 14-year veteran and former league MVP in Matt Ryan. Mariota signed a two-year deal on the same day that Ryan was traded. The former No. 2 overall pick spent the past two seasons backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas and will reunite with Arthur Smith. If Mariota struggles early in the season, Smith could be tempted to bring in rookie Desmond Ridder. Will Super Mario have a Ryan Tannehill-like resurrection under Smith in Atlanta, or is he simply a stop-gap for Ridder?