The Falcons left guard saga continues, and I couldn’t be less confident with the state of the position battle. There is so much to recount from the beginning of the offseason. Beginning with the full 90-man roster, I figured Matt Gono and Jalen Mayfield would battle it out with the assumption that the veteran would win the job, mostly because of experience. Then, Talkin’ Birdy’s Matt Karoly revealed that Gono had a significant neck injury that would sideline him for the foreseeable future.
At that point, my focus shifted to Josh Andrews and Mayfield, which forced me to believe in the rookie that the coaching staff seemed so confident in when they drafted him in the third round. Injuries along the offensive line lingered into training camp, which forced the staff to return to his collegiate position at tackle. As I have talked about countless times, Mayfield isn’t an NFL-caliber tackle, and I never understood the thought process of interrupting his development at guard.
With Mayfield taking snaps at tackle, there was nobody to compete with Andrews at left guard, which resulted in the journeyman lineman getting most of the first-team reps and being widely considered the front runner for the starting job. Even with Andrews in line to start, I was uneasy because of his limited ability in pass protection, even if he is a somewhat reliable run blocker.
Now, as Terry Fontenot tweaks the 53-man roster ahead of the opener against the Eagles, we have another name in the mix of the left guard battle — Colby Gossett, who the Falcons claimed off waivers from the Browns. Then news hit directly after the acquisition was announced that Josh Andrews would head to the IR after suffering a broken hand. At the earliest, Andrews is eligible to return after Week 3, so we are back to naming a starter ahead of Philadelphia — Mayfield vs. Gossett.
Gossett’s name might be familiar because he was the offensive lineman who recovered the now-infamous Kobe Jones interception-fumble debacle. He opted out of the 2020 season after signing as a free agent with the Browns the September before. In 2019, he was a part of Cleveland’s active roster for the final week of the regular season after spending 15 weeks on the practice squad. Before that, Gossett was a Vikings’ sixth-round pick out of Appalachian State in 2018, but after not initially making Minnesota’s roster, he signed to the Cardinals practice squad. After only making three starts for Arizona, he didn’t make the roster the following year, where he was picked up by the Browns. Here is an excerpt from Dane Brugler in 2018 of Gossett:
A four-year starter at Appalachian State, Gossett spent most of his career anchoring the right guard position, but also provided the coaching staff a versatile and durable option at tackle and center if needed – allowed only one combined sack the last two seasons. Gossett is an assignment sound player and uses his aggressive hands to tie up defenders. However, he is overly reliant on his upper body due to choppy steps and lower body stiffness that can be exposed by explosive interior defenders. Overall, Gossett doesn’t have a dominant trait and his skill-set leaves little room for error, but he finds ways to get the job done on tape and should provide immediate offensive line depth in the NFL.
Gossett did play under Falcons offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford in college, so that bodes well for his chances of winning the starting job. Still, there are only two weeks until the opener against the Eagles; time is limited for him to grasp the playbook. The only reason I believe he has a shot is because of Jalen Mayfield’s sputtering. The former Michigan Wolverine hasn’t been nearly as impressive in the preseason as I had hoped. He’s struggled in pass protection and looks a bit underdeveloped, but the pickings are slim.
Mayfield is now likely the assumed starter, which has to have the staff will be pulling their hair out trying to scheme around him the first part of the season. Arthur Smith addressed the specific matchup with Fletcher Cox in the opener by saying, “everybody’s gotta get baptized at some point.”
He’s right, but he didn’t mention Javon Hargrave, another menacing defensive lineman on the Eagles. Even though Philadelphia is an unimpressive roster, their strength lies along the defensive front. What’s even more difficult to imagine, it won’t get much easier for Mayfield in the next couple of weeks; in fact, he will be facing arguably 11 of the top 30 interior defensive linemen that the league has to offer over the first five weeks of the season.
Regardless of who starts, that player better be ready because there is a gauntlet of interior defenders awaiting him during the first quarter or so of the season. Beginning with the Eagles, the starter will have to handle Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Then against the Buccanneers, the left guard will draw Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh, and William Gholston. In Week 3 against the Giants, he will be across from Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence. The following week, the Falcons host Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne of the Washington Football Team, and it doesn’t end there. In Week 5, the Falcons face Quinnen Williams and Folorunso Fatukasi of the Jets.
The LG Saga isn’t yet over, but it hasn’t been this disheartening in quite some time. Never say “at least it can’t get worse than this”, because you might surprise yourself. Mayfield will get the nod, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he struggled and was replaced by Josh Andrews before Week 4 against the Washington Football Team.