This is the third installment of a series reviewing Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith’s first draft class in Atlanta, which included a total of nine players. We’ll go chronologically through these draft picks in the order they were selected; next up is the Falcons’ third-round pick that raises some questions about the new regime’s drafting philosophy.
If you’ve missed any other installments, be sure to check them out!
It isn’t difficult to identify the Falcons’ weakness on the offensive side of the ball; the line was the primary catalyst for the group’s shortcomings. Whether that be in the run or pass game, the offensive line was the primary reason for the mediocre Falcons offense. Matt Ryan was pressured on over a quarter of all his dropbacks, and Falcons rushers averaged just 2.1 yards per carry before contact — third-worst and fourth-worst in the league, respectively.
It also isn’t particularly challenging to find the weak link on the offensive line. Ask any Falcons fan, and they’ll tell you Jalen Mayfield was easily the worst lineman of this group and quite possibly the worst player on the team this season. The third-round pick out of Michigan allowed 11 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, and 25 hurries in 16 starts.
Mayfield has many things to improve in his pass sets. His anchor could use bolstering, which should come as his body develops with an entire offseason of training. His initial punch and hand placement need to be much more consistent. Mayfield’s ability to identify twists and stunts will come with experience, but it was awful in 2021. He also needs to improve his contact balance and ability to move his feet while engaged with defenders. It might be easier to list the things that he doesn’t need to work on.
I’ve bashed him a good bit, so I will highlight an area where I thought he performed respectively. Although his run blocking was still below-average, it was head and shoulders better than his pass protection. Mayfield is able to get out in space quickly as a pulling guard and on screens. However, his ability to drive defenders off the ball in power leaves a lot to be desired.
There is quite a bit for Mayfield to work on this offseason. For a regime to select a college tackle, start him at guard, and then have him fall on his face isn’t encouraging. There is hope, though. Mayfield has already started more games as a professional than he did at Michigan, so improvement is almost certain. Experience in this league is the best teaching tool, and hen sure did have a lot of “experience” this season.
Mayfield was one of the worst-graded guards in the league by several different analytics. Arthur Smith has stood firm on his support for Mayfield, and there should be a grace period for all rookies. It was never the plan for him to come in and start right away; Mayfield was baptized by fire. The plan going forward should be to slowly correct one thing at a time and build his confidence.
Mayfield has so much to work on that it isn’t going to be fixed in just one offseason, but it would be a gross overreaction to just write him off after just 16 games. Plenty of offensive linemen struggle in this league to begin their careers. Mayfield should be given a chance to continue his development, but it would be wise for this regime to bring in a starting-caliber guard to compete with the former Michigan Wolverine.