Fortifying offensive line certainly in the cards for Falcons first round pick

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The Falcons are set to pick 8th in the NFL draft later this month with more questions than answers on the roster. Even though Terry Fontenot has been adamant regarding Atlanta’s best player available draft strategy, chances are whichever prospect is selected will also fill a position of need because the Falcons have so many of them.

Most mock drafts have the Falcons going in the obvious direction — edge, wide receiver, or quarterback. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Travon Walker, and Jermaine Johnson are the three pass rushers most commonly linked to Atlanta. Garrett Wilson, Treylon Burks, and Drake London are the pass catchers Atlanta has been mocked drafting. Then, Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett are the two signal callers most often connected to the Falcons at No. 8.

Some analysts slot Atlanta taking one of the top corners in the class — Derek Stingley Jr. and Sauce Gardner. However, I think an offensive lineman is as probable as any of the other prospects I’ve listed.

The Falcons’ pedestrian run game was caused by a lack of push along the line of scrimmage; Atlanta rushers averaged just 2.1 yards per carry before contact — fourth-worst in the NFL. Matt Ryan‘s worst statistical year was caused by a decline in his own play, lack of receiving options, but most of all, the putrid play of the offensive line. Ryan was pressured on over a quarter of his dropbacks, which was the third-worst in the league. Something has to change. The Falcons would benefit tremendously from any of the below offensive linemen prospects:

Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State 

“Ickey” has been floated as the draft’s best overall prospect, which is understandable. He’s quick and light on his feet yet powerful and will only continue to ascend as he refines his technique. He has three years of starting experience at left tackle but has also played more than 200 snaps at left guard. Obviously, selecting Ekwonu would come with the notion that he’d kick inside to guard and challenge Jalen Mayfield because Atlanta recently extended stalwart left tackle Jake Matthews.

Evan Neal, OT, Alabama 

Neal is right there in the conversation with Ickey for the top prospect in the draft. He’s better in pass protection than Ekonwu, given his ability to constantly move his feet and reset while controlling rushers with his hands. His lack of balance becomes apparent in the run game, where Ickey is superior to Evans. He’s still effective because of his rare combination of size, athleticism, and flexibility —  playing guard as a freshman, right tackle in 2020, and left tackle this past season during his time in Tuscaloosa. Neal would compete with Kaleb McGary in 2022 but would seemingly be the starter of the future opposite Matthews.

Tyler Linderbaum, OC, Iowa 

Linderbaum might be the quickest to assimilate to the NFL of this group. He’s swift and shows elite athleticism in his range and body control. He’s not the biggest center prospect, but his wrestling background is apparent in his hand placement, leverage, and attitude. He struggles in pass protection with his short arms but is elite as a run blocker, rivaling Ekonwu as the class’s top run blocker.

Kenyon Green, OG, Texas A&M 

Green is my favorite prospect of the bunch, but not because he’s the best lineman prospect. Green’s versatility is unrivaled in this class and could fill several different holes along Atlanta’s front. After starting at right guard as a freshman and left guard as a sophomore, Green filled in across the line in 2021 — 80-plus snaps at four different offensive line positions last season. He can battle with Jalen Mayfield and Kaleb McGary this spring but would also give Atlanta an Elgton Jenkins-esque lineman who can move all over the line in a pinch.

Photographer: Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire



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