Falcons rookie looking to veterans for advice ahead of training camp

CFM1907271805 AtlantaFalcons TrainingCamp

The Falcons will lean heavily on their young players, specifically the rookies. Drake London, Desmond Ridder, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone can potentially have massive impacts at their respective positions. However, one rookie without the expectations of a high draft pick could be the surprise of the group, Justin Shaffer, who is asking veterans for advice ahead of training camp.

Atlanta’s offensive front surrendered 40 sacks last year, and three of the five starters were some of the worst pass protectors in the league. Shaffer was the Falcons’ No. 190 overall selection, so expecting him to beat out Jalen Mayfield, Elijah Wilkinson, and Germain Ifedi isn’t reasonable. Still, asking one of the best guards in football, Chris Lindstrom, how he can better prepare is encouraging. 

Schaffer was a two-year starter for the Dawgs and helped them to a National Championship. He’s a powerful guard that certainly has a shot at unseating Mayfield. Shaffer bodes well in a run-centric offense, though many believe him to be a better gap scheme fit than zone. Still, his run-blocking ability is undeniable. I actually think the former Dawg has an outside shot at starting, and I’m not alone. Chad Reuter believes Shaffer is one of a dozen Day 3 selections with the potential to push for starting reps. Others are also high on the UGA product.

“When you think about Justin, you think about what he went against every day at practice,” offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said. “And not just in practice, but in the weight room, too, and all the competitive things that you would go through in a program. He’s doing it side-by-side all those guys, competing with them.”

Jordan Davis and Devonte Wyatt were two first-round picks in the 2022 NFL draft, and Jalen Carter is a future first-rounder. All of whom Shaffer competed with regularly.

“When I talk about anchor I talk about guys in pass protection who are not getting driven back into the pocket, who are not getting driven back into the quarterback,” Falcons area scout Shepley Heard explained. “It’s hard to find that with guys who are that big and that strong, especially playing in the SEC when you’re going against top talent week in and week out, but you’re stoning guys at the line of scrimmage and you’re able to lock on and sustain them. Those are the players where you sit there and think, ‘OK. This is going to translate to the NFL.’”

There’s always a learning curve at the professional level, especially considering Shaffer is a sixth-round pick. Still, the staff and front office seem unbothered by the notion that late-round selections can’t have immediate and worthwhile contributions.

“I think he’s what we’re looking for,” Heard said. “I think we need that guy. We need a guy who can get a push in the run game. We need a guy who can give us some anchor in pass pro. Now, you have a guy who has a lot of experience playing high-end football in the SEC, starting a lot of games in the last two years doing just that.”

The Falcons need improvement along the offensive line. If Shaffer can be that guy, Terry Fontenot will look like a genius for finding a starting-caliber guard in the sixth round, which would make up for the horrendous decision on Mayfield the year prior.

Photographer: John Adams/Icon Sportswire
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