This is the fifth installment of a comprehensive positional roster breakdown for the Falcons following April’s draft — moving on from quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Today, we will analyze the machine that makes Arthur Smith’s offense go — the offensive line. Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford is widely considered one of the best in the business, and he’ll need to be considering Atlanta’s relatively young and inexperienced group. For this offense to reach its potential with all the weapons at Matt Ryan’s disposal, the offensive line will have to protect the quarterback and open up running lanes for the running backs. There are currently 16 rostered offensive linemen, but I expect the Falcons to keep nine or ten on the final 53-man roster.
Matthews is the longest-tenured member of the Falcons offensive line and one of the most reliable tackles in the league. Matthews has been protecting Matt Ryan since 2014 and has developed into a heck of a left tackle. No, he isn’t Trent Williams or David Bakhtiari, but Matthews will be extremely valuable for this young group as a leader on and off the field. Though a better pass blocker than run blocker, Matthews will be instrumental in the offensive line’s success this year. You won’t hear his name very much, but he’s one of the most important members of this team and truly an unsung hero.
Lindstrom is the future of Atlanta’s offensive line. After an average rookie year riddled with injuries, the former first-round pick demonstrated the capability of being one of the best guards in football. His run-blocking is menacing, and his pass-blocking isn’t far behind. Expect his ascension to continue as Ledford is brought in to maximize his potential. Arthur Smith has already mentioned Lindstrom as one of the few players that initially stood out during his thorough film review. I would expect Lindstrom is one of the first members of the new regime to earn a contract extension next offseason.
McGary had come a long way since being drafted in the first round a couple of years ago in the same draft that netted Lindstrom. He was easily in the bottom five of the worst right tackles in football his rookie year, then last year, McGary showed vast improvements in technique, but in my estimation, he’s still in the bottom third of right tackles. If progression continues, he could develop into an average starting right tackle in this league, which is exactly what I expect him to be in 2021. McGary’s position is essentially solidified on the starting line is essentially solidified in my eyes. He’s a better run blocker than pass, but in an offense catered to make it easier using play action, I’d expect him to improve across all areas of his game this year.
Gono filled in adequately last year, but I wouldn’t feel good if he played a major role in the offensive line this season. He played 336 snaps in 2020 and signed his restricted free agent tender this offseason to return to the team. He’s appeared in 21 games with four starts over the course of three seasons in Atlanta, and played in all 16 games a year ago — taking snaps at both right tackle and left guard. Given he entered the league in 2018, there is still reason to believe that he’s still developing and could be a stop-gap left guard in 2021 until one of the younger linemen steps up. $3.384 million for a swing tackle is concerning, but if Gono isn’t starting at left guard this season… I’d say it would be a good thing as the younger Falcons have stepped up.
Hennessy had this inside track to replace Alex Mack a year ago this time, but a new regime has put his place on the team in doubt. He struggled in limited snaps his rookie year, but coming out of Temple, Hennessey would’ve been an ideal scheme fit for Arthur Smith’s offense. Drew Dalman being drafted in the fourth round has to point towards the coaching staffs’ feelings about Hennessey, but for right now, it is a two-man race for the starting center position.
Mayfield fell to the Falcons in the third round, and I believe inside the building, the Falcons are much higher on the former Michigan Wolverine than outside the building. Arthur Smith said in a post-draft presser that they’re confident in the development plan set forth with him, so that makes me think he has the inside track to start at left guard. With a new coaching staff and front office, there’s no reason to be pessimistic. Mayfield could certainly be the answer at the open guard position.
I think Dalman has a better chance of starting than Hennessy, but only because the former Stanford Cardinal will compete at both guard and center. He’s incredibly intelligent, and his college coaches praise his leadership. Dwayne Ledford has already made it clear Dalman has the intangibles to start at center right away, and though he has the athleticism and IQ to play center in Arthur Smith’s offense, Ledford said he was impressed with Hennessy. Dalman is going to have to beat Hennessy out; the job won’t be given to him.
This is where the offensive line group begins to fall off. Though he will compete to start at left guard, Andrews will be carried on the roster as a depth piece. He can provide depth at any interior position along the line, and his athleticism in space bodes well in Arthur Smith’s zone rushing scheme.
I believe the ninth linemen will be Wright because of his positional flexibility. Coming out of college in 2019, the Browns switched him from tackle to center. His plus-athleticism enabled the position switch and also fits well within the offensive system. He was brought in because of his ability in zone blocking schemes as the Falcons were “going back to it” before the coaching staff was gutted, and now he will get a chance to make the team under the same circumstances.
First and foremost, what a name Willie Beavers is; he played in the XFL as a tackle but projects better as an interior depth piece. He’s a practice squad journeyman making stops in Minnesota, New England, Seattle, Chicago, and San Francisco. The former fourth-round pick’s only path to the team will be through the practice squad then an elevation due to the active roster via injuries.
Interior offensive line depth is the only reason Hargrove will make the final 53-man roster. He’s a massive human being who played an impressive number of snaps at left guard for Pittsburgh. He thrives in the run game, routinely pushing defenders off their spot and establishing the line of scrimmage. His football IQ and awareness are on display in pass protection as he handled stunts, twists, and blitzes just fine. He actually has the best chance to make the team of the undrafted free agents, in my opinion.
Jack Batho IV
Our own Jake Gordon has a massive crush on Batho, and he’s already made it apparent he thinks he has a chance of making the roster.
I hope Jack Batho IV from the South Dakota School of Mines makes the final roster because that is an all-time name and school combo. I like to imagine that Batho just came to practice, dusted the coal off of his hardhat, and ate everyone alive for three hours. He is a mountain of a man at 6’7 and 315 pounds, and I’m sure Dwayne Ledford is eager to mold him into a monster swing tackle. Batho is a biomedical engineering major and a two-time team captain, so I’m sure the Falcons value his personality, intelligence, and leadership, along with his massive frame. With not much at swing tackle, he could make the roster. Even if he doesn’t, I think he’ll be just fine.
Sculthorpe is a redshirt senior, so he’s much older than many other UDFAs, but he played three years under Ledford and has positional flexibility at center and guard. He’s been reported as a cut-throat competitor and could potentially make the practice squad because of it.
Jones is only 25 after being drafted in the sixth round by the Broncos in 2018. After being released by the Colts, the Falcons scooped him up because of his upside in the zone rushing scheme Smith will use in Atlanta even though he’s yet to make an NFL start.
Though he’s played left tackle and both guard positions in college, Smith projects as a guard in the NFL. He’s got a mean streak and is a violent blocker. The positional flexibility has to be attractive to the coaching staff and front office.
Many believe Ryan Neuzil can make the final 53-man roster as a swing guard. He’s highly competitive, a team leader but isn’t an outstanding athlete. Ledford has a connection to the former App State offensive linemen when he was recruited back in 2016.
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