Falcons can bolster porous offensive line with several top draft prospects

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The Falcons’ offensive line was not good in 2021. Many believed the addition of Arthur Smith and Dwayne Ledford would reshape the unit, but they didn’t outperform their talent level.

Terry Fontenot drafted Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman; however, neither first-year player made a difference during their respective rookie seasons. Atlanta’s pedestrian run game was caused by a lack of push along the line of scrimmage; Falcons’ ball-carriers averaged just 2.1 yards per carry before contact — fourth-worst in the NFL.

The third-round pick out of Michigan allowed 11 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, and 25 hurries in 16 starts. Kaleb McGary gave up nine sacks, ten quarterback hits, and 22 quarterback hurries in his third season. Matt Hennessy finished his first full year as a starter and surrendered three sacks, one quarterback hit, and nearly 30 quarterback hurries. Jake Matthews gave up three sacks, five quarterback hits, and 18 quarterback hurries.

Chris Lindstrom had his best season as a professional in 2022. He didn’t allow a single sack and was a road-grader in the run game. The former first-round pick has officially taken the crown from Matthews as the Falcons’ best offensive linemen. The Falcons could use upgrading at three positions along the offensive line. Lucky for Atlanta, this draft class is loaded with future high-end starters.

Tyler Linderbaum (OC) — Iowa

Linderbaum rivals Evan Neal for the class’s top prospect, but he’s a center so he’ll never receive the validation of a stud tackle. Even though he’s listed at 6’3”, 291 pounds, he looks far bigger on film. The Iowa product possesses incredible strength and power; his speed and explosion off the line of scrimmage are all excellent.

Linderbaum is perfect for Arthur Smith’s offense because he is also highly capable of getting to the second level. His balance, hand placement, and footwork are almost always on point. Even though Hennessy and Dalman are both centers, Terry Fontenot has long stated he won’t be afraid to add to a position of strength.

Evan Neal (OT) — Alabama

It’s a long shot the Falcons will even have a chance to grab Neal, but he’d be a home run pick for Atlanta. Standing an impressive 6’7”, 360 pounds, Neal is a mountain of a man and has experience all over the offensive line — playing guard as a freshman, right tackle in 2020, and left tackle this past season during his time in Tuscaloosa.

In theory, Neal could play right tackle but it is sometimes more difficult than it seems to just switch sides of the line. However, given his past experience playing on both sides, including along the interior, the Falcons could feel confident in drafting him and then figuring out where he’ll play later.

Ikem Ekwonu (OG/OT) — NC State

Ekwonu is the best run-blocker in this class and would have an immediate impact on the Falcons. He has the versatility to play guard or tackle at the next level, which has to intrigue Atlanta, who could use upgrading at both. Ekwonu is a mean, punch-you-in-the-mouth lineman that regularly knocks defenders off the ball. Similar to Neal, drafting Ickey would be taking the best player available and then finding a spot for him to play at a later date.

Trevor Penning (OT) — Northern Iowa

Penning towers at a staggering 6’7”, 322 pounds, which makes him nearly impossible to beat with a bull rush. However, his technique leaves much to be desired. His incredible frame makes him susceptible to losing his balance in pass protection. Penning certainly isn’t as refined as some of the other prospects in this article, but he can still be a very good player in this league.

Kenyon Green (OG/OT) — Texas A&M 

Green is THICK, standing at 6’4”, 325 pounds. But he doesn’t lose any movement ability at that size; Green’s explosiveness and lateral quickness are apparent in his film. He’s not as refined technically as Linderbaum, but he’s shown pretty good fundamentals for a prospect. Given his versatility, the Falcons have to be interested in the former Aggie.

Daniel Faalele (OT) — Minnesota

I’ve mentioned several times that this prospect is a mountain or that prospect is staggeringly large. Well, Faalele makes Evan Neal and Trevor Penning look small. He’s easily the most physically-imposing prospect in this class at 6’8”, 380 pounds. He obviously possesses strength and power, but his length allows him to stifle pass rushers at the line of scrimmage.

There are holes in his game, particularly hand placement, but he should be fine once he gets with a decent offensive line coach. His size limits his mobility and balance, which is to be expected. Those traits there might make it difficult for the Falcons to pull the trigger, given Arthur Smith’s zone running schemes.

Charles Cross (OT) — Mississippi State

Cross is certainly in the cards for the Falcons’ first-round pick.

He is a natural pass blocker with the balance and patience to handle double moves, speed rushers, and blitzes. His run-blocking skills need refining, specifically his lower body strength, but he is still reliable in that area.

Photographer: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire
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