In an already down season for him, Kaleb McGary received more bad news after the Falcons placed him on the reserve/ COVID-19 list. He’s struggled in 2021 outside of an impressive outing against Washington in Week 4, when he shut down Chase Young. Unfortunately, I believe that is more of an indictment on Young than McGary.
Against the Eagles in the opener, McGary looked lost, finishing with a 44.6 pass-blocking grade and committing one penalty. Those poor performances continued versus the Bucs and Giants. Against the lowly Jets, he may have seemed serviceable, but New York’s defensive front underperformed outside of John Franklin-Meyers. I doubt Arthur Smith is interested in anything less than a reliable starter, which McGary has proven not to be.
McGary hasn’t necessarily lived up to the billing through the first five games of the season, but that isn’t to say he wasn’t improving beforehand. Thomas Dimitroff traded back into the first round of the 2019 draft to select McGary, who stumbled into the league about as disastrously as Jalen Mayfield did against the Eagles. However, after a largely disappointing rookie year, McGary dramatically improved in his second season 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.
The Falcons will closely monitor McGary’s development to determine if he should be a part of future plans because Terry Fontenot will have to decide whether or not to pick up McGary’s fifth-year option this offseason. As of right now, things look grim for the former Washington Husky. Still, it might not be quite time to give up on him because most tackles reach their full potential in their third and fourth years in the league. There are plenty of examples around the league of late bloomers turning into more than reliable starters.
Despite McGary’s struggle, there’s no questioning whether he is the best option to start for the Falcons. He’s the best they have, and it will be a struggle replacing him until he returns. Arthur Smith, Dwayne Ledford, and Terry Fontenot have a few options to soften the blow. The Falcons activated Josh Andrews off the IR in a coordinating move, so Atlanta will have some combination of Jalen Mayfield, Josh Andrews, and Jason Spriggs at left guard and right tackle. The most obvious decision would be to insert Spriggs in for McGary, but the staff could slide Mayfield over to right tackle and play the recently activated Andrews in at left guard.
That is too many moving pieces for my liking, but the staff has been adamant about having the best five offensive linemen out there, so I wouldn’t be totally shocked if they went with the second option. Even though Mayfield played right tackle while McGary was injured during training camp, it would be unwise to halt his development at guard.
There is the faint possibility that McGary is activated before Sunday, but the bigger question going forward should be whether he’s going to be included in Fontenot’s plans. He’s struggled to begin 2021, but he finished 2020 strong and is learning a new system with a new position coach — Dwayne Ledford — who is likely teaching new techniques. There is still plenty of time for McGary to turn it around.
Thanks for reading about Kaleb McGary and his bout with COVID. If you liked this, also check out Jake Gordon’s most recent Mock Draft Monday.