A little over a week has passed since the NFL draft, and I have a much better idea of what to expect from each of the Falcons’ draftees once they step on the field for the first time at Rookie Minicamp; which will take place on Friday and Saturday of this week.
There’s a lot of potential in this class with cornerbacks like Jordan Miller and Kendall Sheffield possessing elite physical traits that could allow them to outperform their draft position. The same could be said about John Cominsky, who is an outstanding athlete at 6’5″, 290 pounds out of Charleston University. But this draft, and the entire offseason really, was focused on one thing – protecting Matt Ryan – and that’s where the cream of this class comes in.
Kaleb McGary is a perfectly-sized offensive tackle out of the University of Washington. Despite, where some draft boards might have had him, the Falcons quickly fell in love with him and forced their way back into the first round to select him.
There’s a lot to like about the former Husky. At 6’7″ – the necessary length is there for him to deal with all types of pass rushers on the edge. He’s also 315 pounds of solid brick. Unlike most lineman, there isn’t a lot of fat on this guy, causing him to look a bit like a pale version of The Hulk. Atlanta didn’t trade up into the first round for him to ride the pine. He’s going to play and should start from day one, but there are lingering questions about his technique that may prevent that from happening.
Most noticeably, McGary has had his hands full when facing pure speed off the edge. This isn’t something he saw much of in Pac-12 play, but he did see it outside of the conference. Let’s just say it wasn’t exactly pretty. Here’s him against Auburn dealing with a speedy pass rusher in a wide-nine technique.
McGary does seem to struggle against pass rushers in a wide-9 technique. That's a tough drop point for him to hit, and speed rushers can get by him on the outside. pic.twitter.com/UUuXnAkSPf
— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) April 26, 2019
That’s the type of speed and technique McGary will see every week in the NFL. He will have to do a better job of getting out of his stance quicker to protect Matt Ryan, because when he meets defenders at the point of attack, there is usually very little they can do. Here are a few clips:
As a pass blocker, McGary has plenty of size and strength to suffocate bull rushes. He's at his best when he's patient and anchored with his stance. pic.twitter.com/Q08TZAa98a
— William McFadden (@willmcfadden) April 26, 2019
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) February 13, 2019
Ferguson not finding success against Kaleb McGary pic.twitter.com/8Uwc7Ruyjx
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 22, 2019
— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) January 23, 2019
That might have been a little bit of overkill, but those are all NFL caliber players that have been drafted or will be drafted. McGary is a physical beast that can put men of any size in the dirt. I imagine Matt Ryan is going to like this guy for the remainder of his career.
But I wouldn’t crown McGary as the cream of this years draft class. That belongs to the Falcons first pick, and 14th overall, Chris Lindstrom.
I’ve given the Lindstrom selection some less than stellar grades when going through my initial findings, but they don’t have much to do with actual results on the field. It was a more of a “why did the Falcons spend all their money and their first-round pick on the offensive guard position?” As a player, Lindstrom is going to be a plug-and-play stud that could have this offense humming like it’s 2016 again.
The most notable part of Lindstrom’s game is his pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed 0 sacks or QB hits and only four hurries in his final season as a Golden Eagle. That’s a pressure rate of only 1.1%. To put that into perspective, Matt Ryan was pressured 204 times in 2018 – the second most of any quarterback. Lindstrom was also magnificent on the biggest stage against Clemson.
All four of the Tigers’ starting defensive lineman went to the NFL. Boston College and the rest of the NCAA for that matter stood no chance. However, Lindstrom performed admirably, allowing zero pressures the whole game on 30 passing downs. Pressure is one thing; pressure from the interior is a different animal, especially when you are not a mobile quarterback like Matt Ryan. The Falcons gave up way too much interior pressure over the last two seasons. That ends in 2019 with Chris Lindstrom.
While pass blocking may be his forte, Lindstrom has the potential to be just as deadly in the running game. He’s a documented elite athlete that can matchup with whoever is in front of him at both the first and second levels. Lindstrom ran a 4.91 40-yard dash at the Combine with a vertical of over 30 inches while weighing 308 pounds. That’s necessary for guards in a zone blocking scheme. The Falcons need lineman that can move, and move fast – another area where Lindstrom excels.
Finding weaknesses with Lindstrom is the challenging part. He’s not a lineman that is going to intimidate many NFL players with his size and strength. His push down the field on blocks is less than ideal. Maybe his arms aren’t the perfect length for an NFL lineman. But the consensus with Lindstrom when looking on the tape, at what scouts say, and what Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have said – he’s going to be a force on the interior of the offensive line for many, many years.
Whether you agree with the process of investing so much capital into the offensive guard position (I don’t), the Chris Lindstrom selection is going to make Atlanta a much better team. He’s got the potential to be an elite guard and have a similar impact to the one Alex Mack brought when the Falcons signed him before the 2016 season. He should be the best player of Atlanta’s draft class, and that’s why the decision makers ignored the extracurricular circumstances and took who they believed was the best player available – a technique that has worked for them of late.