Falcons: Josh Andrews is eligible to return from IR, should he start over Jalen Mayfield when he returns?

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The Falcons left guard saga has been frustrating. Terry Fontenot most likely re-signed Matt Gono to compete at both left guard and tackle positions. However, before the season, Talkin’ Birdy’s Matt Karoly revealed that Gono had a significant neck injury that would sideline him for the foreseeable future. All eyes then turned to Josh Andrews and Jalen Mayfield.

Injuries along the offensive line lingered into training camp, which forced the Falcons to play the rookie at tackle and halted his development at left guard. For much of the offseason, this was the approach the staff took. Andrews was unchallenged, so the veteran became the presumptive starter. But unfortunately, he was placed on the IR after breaking his hand a short time after the 53-man roster was made official.

Mayfield was named the starter, and the results couldn’t have been more disastrous. The third-round pick was baptized by Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, putting together one of the worst rookie debuts in recent memory. Against the Buccaneers ferocious front seven in Week 2, Mayfield improved ever so slightly, but there still wasn’t much reason for optimism… until now.

In what was his best game as a pro yet, the former Michigan Wolverine held his own against the Giants in Week 3. He looked effective in the run game, particularly getting to the second level of the defense on specific play designs. He didn’t see much of Leonard Williams, by far New York’s best interior defender, so that might have altered his performance, but the Falcons have to be pleased with the steady improvement from Mayfield thus far.

Arthur Smith will have a decision to make whenever Andrews is healthy enough to return to the active roster. Do they go with the veteran who was going to start Week 1 initially? Or, do they stay with the improving rookie?

This is the first week the staff can activate Andrews off the IR, but he might not be ready. When he is, though, I would be shocked if they took Mayfield out for the journeyman veteran. He’s stacking encouraging performances, so I think the staff will re-evaluate in the coming weeks. After the Washington Football Team and Jets in London, the Falcons will start a run of more formidable opponents — the Dolphins, Saints, Panthers, and Cowboys. At that point, if Mayfield hasn’t improved, Andrews should be the choice.

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