Even though the Falcons addressed massive areas of need, they also got worse at some positions and remained stagnant at others.
Terry Fontenot added a playmaker on the perimeter, multiple EDGE defenders, and a potential franchise quarterback. However, Matt Ryan is gone, and Marcus Mariota is a significant downgrade. Moreover, the team is seemingly electing to run it back with the exact same starting offensive line, which is egregious. It is the team’s single biggest positional need.
The Falcons boast one of the worst lines in football. After surrendering 40 sacks last year, Atlanta is choosing to run it back with essentially the same squad. They did add to the position through the draft and free agency, but the front office didn’t invest heavily. Justin Shaffer was selected in the sixth round and is set to compete at left guard. Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson were brought in to compete with Kaleb McGary at right tackle. And Matt Hennessy‘s competition will be drawn from last year’s draft class in Drew Dalman.
So there is competition, but instead of iron sharpening iron, it’s more like lead sharpening lead. The Falcons are basically trotting out the same starting five, three of whom were some of the worst pass protectors in the league. Mayfield is the very worst in pass sets, Hennessy is the sixth-worst, and McGary rounds out the group as the ninth-worst lineman in pass protection. That’s three starters in the bottom ten. That’s a problem.
Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have been adamant regarding their team’s pursuit of winning and not tanking, but sending Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder out there behind this group suggests otherwise. Despite the sunken cost in Mayfield, the Falcons need to add a starting-caliber guard; he’s the weakest link of the unit… by far.
As I mentioned, the Falcons boasted three of the worst pass protectors in the league last year in Mayfield, Hennessy, and McGary. The good news is the Falcons are having an open competition at those three spots and could feature as many as three new starters, according to Arthur Smith.
Arthur Smith: Outside of Jake Matthews and Chris Lindstrom, it is an open competition at the other three spots on the offensive line. #Falcons
— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) July 27, 2022
According to multiple reports coming out of the first day of training camp, the Falcons did make a minor adjustment to the starting five right off the rip. Below were the first and second offensive line units:
- LT Jake Matthews LG Jalen Mayfield C Drew Dalman RG Chris Lindstrom RT Kaleb McGary
- LT Rick Leonard LG Elijah Wilkinson C Matt Hennessy RG Colby Gossett RT Germain Ifedi
The noticeable change is Dalman over Hennessy, but expect Wilkinson to garner first-team snaps at left guard and Ifedi at right tackle. This is only the first day of camp, so fans shouldn’t overreact. A lot will change before the start of the season
Photographer: Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire