Solidifying the offensive line is paramount in Atlanta. Arthur Smith remains adamant about winning in the trenches, “Obviously, we’re going to go as the line goes.” The offensive line has been underwhelming the past few years for the Falcons and has attributed to the team’s shortcomings against opposing pass rushers; over the past three seasons, Matt Ryan has been sacked 42, 48, and 41 times, respectively.
Chris Lindstrom and Jake Matthews are undoubtedly the leaders of this group, but with so much uncertainty regarding left guard and center, Kaleb McGary needs to have a breakout year to help elevate what will surely be an inexperienced duo at those open positions.
After a disastrous rookie campaign, McGary dramatically improved in his second year in Atlanta — the number of sacks he was responsible for dropped from a league-high 13 to 4, and he only committed one penalty in 2020. Since being drafted in the first round a couple of years ago, he has come a long way as he was easily a bottom-five tackle in the NFL as a rookie. In his second season, McGary showed improvement in technique, but he still finished last year in the bottom third of right tackles.
McGary could develop into an average starting tackle in his third season if he follows the same progression. As a better run blocker than in pass sets, Arthur Smith’s scheme will benefit McGary greatly. The combination of Smith’s offense and Dwayne Ledford‘s expertise makes a breakout year even more possible as the latter is widely regarded as one of the best in the business at developing young tackles, as he did with Mekhi Becton most recently. I expect McGary to take an equal if not a larger step in his third year than his second.
In a recent article detailing why Chris Lindstrom will reach his full potential in 2021, I used PFF’s investigation into the learning curves from college football to the NFL, which shed light on each position’s production arc using WAR.
Broadly, the PFF WAR model does these things, in order:
- Determine how good a given player was during a period of time (generally a season) using PFF grades;
- Map a player’s production to a “wins” value for his team using the relative importance of each facet of play;
- Simulate a team’s expected performance with a player of interest and with an average player participating identically in his place. Take the difference in expected wins (e.g., Wins Above Average);
- Determine the average player with a given participation profile’s wins above replacement player, assuming a team of replacement-level players is a 3-13 team;
- Add the terms in the last two calculations to get that player’s WAR.
According to the analytics, guards reached their full potential sooner than tackles; tackles seem to progress throughout their first four years in the league. So, even though I believe McGary will take another step in the right direction in 2021, his fourth season will more than likely be his coming-out party.