As of right now, the battle for the starting left guard position is between Josh Andrews, Jalen Mayfield, and Drew Dalman. The competition will likely lead all the way up to practice the week of the Eagles game as the staff installs the game plan for Philadelphia. More often than not, one player gets all the first-team reps during these periods, so I would be shocked if the staff continued to roll out an ever-changing offensive line. The left guard position battle is nearing a crisis state:
Andrews is exactly who we thought he was — a journeyman who is somewhat reliable in the run game but a total liability in pass protection. Mayfield showed similar struggles at tackle in the first preseason game. Now that the battle is between these two… it might officially be declared a crisis. The Falcons cannot trot out either of these guys because neither shows even a slight bit of competence protecting the quarterback. Mayfield was reportedly taking a lap during joint practices with the Dolphins, and he couldn’t even finish it, needing help from a teammate to encourage him to keep going…
I get that he is a large man, and I’ll never know what it is like to carry around that weight, but he is still developing mentally and physically — he’s just a kid. He came out of Michigan as a more refined pass blocker than he is performing, so I expect him to rise to the occasion. I’m far from ready to just write him off (as should everyone); in fact, I believe he will develop into a mauler of a guard, but he’s just not quite there yet, it seems.
This was before the Miami preseason game, which made me slightly more confident in Mayfield’s ability to start. He impressed, but I still saw a lack of upper body and grip strength. Mayfield anchored well in pass protection at times but was easily shaken off other times. The preseason finale will decide the starter, though I have a feeling it will be Andrews, even if I think it should be the rookie.
Regardless of who starts, that player better be ready because there is a gauntlet of interior defenders awaiting him during the first quarter or so of the season. Beginning with the Eagles, the starter will have to handle Fletcher Cox. Then against the Buccanneers, the left guard will draw Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and William Gholston. In Week 3 against the Giants, he will be across from Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. The following week, the Falcons host Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne of the Washington Football Team, and it doesn’t end there. In Week 5, the Falcons face Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi of the Jets.
Through the first five weeks of the season, Andrews, Dalman, or Mayfield will face 10 of the 30 best interior defenders the league has to offer. In even worse news, Matt Hennessy will be equally green. He’s yet to really have any experience, though his first taste of the NFL was against Chris Jones, so he knows how dangerous some of these interior defenders can be.
Playing Andrews makes more sense from an experience standpoint. Even if it is minimal, he has more experience than Mayfield. Either way, the center and left guard duo will be in for a difficult gauntlet to start 2021. This isn’t even considering the impressive defensive fronts in New Orleans and Carolina that Atlanta will have to face twice. Whether it be Andrews, Mayfield, or Dalman… he and Hennessy will be baptized by fire to begin the season.