Round 4, Pick 136: Sean Harlow
Offensive guard was the biggest question mark heading into the draft for Atlanta. Chris Chester announced his retirement, leaving former 6th-round pick Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland as the only internal options to fill the void. Despite the apparent need, the Falcons waited quite a while before scooping one up in the draft, and wound up grabbing Sean Harlow late in the fourth-round out of Oregon State.
Harlow’s dad, Pat, was a former 11th overall pick in the NFL draft, so the genes are there for Sean to have a stellar NFL career. He started all four seasons at Oregon State, playing both left and right tackle. With that experience, Harlow should be ready for game experience rather quickly, which might be necessary given the Falcons current need at guard.
Size is going to be an issue as he transitions to the NFL. Harlow plays below 300 pounds and has short arms for a lineman. He will play guard or center at this level. Harlow does not possess great speed or lateral quickness that are normally required of starting lineman. This lack of size and speed made him vulnerable against pass rushers as a tackle. The move to guard will help that, but pass-protection will still be a concern early on.
Although he is undersized, Harlow possesses terrific upper-body strength allowing him to hold onto his blocks. This strength allows him to maul second-level defenders. Run-blocking is his greatest strength. He will easily be able to contribute to Atlanta’s potent rushing attack from day one. The zone blocking scheme that Atlanta runs will also be able to mask some of the issues that may come with his size.
The great thing about football is it is the ultimate team sport. One weak-link can cause the whole team to suffer. On paper, guard was the Falcons biggest need. Unless Wes Schweitzer has the trust of the Falcons coaching staff, Atlanta should have grabbed a guard earlier in the draft. There were several better options available in the second and third rounds. Harlow could turn out to be a nice pick, but there is no reason to believe he is going to be a quality starting guard next season. With the Falcons offense looking to maintain the same success from last season, it is imperative they fill the hole at guard, or they may face a major setback.