NFL.com: Falcons sixth round UGA rookie could push for starting reps

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Across many networks, the national media is fond of the Falcons’ most recent draft haul. Atlanta nabbed Drake London with their first pick, who is set to have an immediate impact on offense. Then, on Day 2, Terry Fontenot did some real damage. He grabbed a pair of high-upside pass rushers, a potential franchise quarterback, and a freak athlete in Troy Andersen.

The later rounds left much to be desired, in my opinion, but that isn’t necessarily the consensus among the national pundits; in fact, Chad Reuter believes one of Atlanta’s Day 3 picks has the potential to push for starting reps.

The Falcons’ 2021 third-round pick, Jalen Mayfield, struggled transitioning from his college position, right tackle, to guard as a rookie. If Mayfield can’t get the job done early in 2022, or if he falls to injury, Shaffer’s ability to bully defenders off the ball could earn him a starting role during his first year with the Falcons.

Reuter only listed 12 Day 3 selections who could push for starting reps, and Justin Shaffer was the ninth-ranked rookie. The sixth-round pick out of UGA has a chance to get some playing time during this season. Shaffer’s a powerful guard who bodes well in a run-centric offense. Though many believed him to be a better gap scheme fit than a zone scheme, his run-blocking ability is undeniable.

However, I think the prospect of him starting this season is more of an indictment on Jalen Mayfield than Shaffer’s abilities, which I have discussed extensively. 

The Falcons boast one of the worst lines in football. After surrendering 40 sacks last year, Atlanta is choosing to run it back with essentially the same squad. They did add to the position through the draft and free agency, but the front office didn’t invest heavily. Justin Shaffer was selected in the sixth round and is set to compete at left guard. Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkerson were brought in to compete with Kaleb McGary at right tackle. And Matt Hennessy‘s competition will be drawn from last year’s draft class in Drew Dalman.

So there is competition, but instead of iron sharpening iron, it’s more like lead sharpening lead. The Falcons are basically trotting out the same starting five, three of whom were some of the worst pass protectors in the league. Mayfield is the very worst in pass sets, Hennessy is the sixth-worst, and McGary rounds out the group as the ninth-worst lineman in pass protection. That’s three starters in the bottom ten. That’s a problem.

Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot have been adamant regarding their team’s pursuit of winning and not tanking, but sending Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder out there behind this group suggests otherwise. Despite the sunken cost in Mayfield, the Falcons need to add a starting-caliber guard; he’s the weakest link of the unit… by far.

Photographer: Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire

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