Projecting the Falcons’ starting offense is not nearly as challenging in comparison to the defensive side of the ball. Approaching the season, the two distinct (offensive) positions that will garner the most attention from media are left guard and the third wide receiver spot. Obviously, the starting left guard is more crucial to the team’s success than the third wide receiver. So this is where we will focus on the weakest link offensively.
Similar to my last article about the weakest link on defense, there is not a guaranteed starter. Instead, it is about the competition surrounding a position. Since Andy Levitre retired, there has been a revolving door at left guard, and this year will be no different. It is a crowded room when considering who will eventually win the starting left guard job. In each scenario of a potential starter, there is a correlating chain reaction for those who lost the starting position.
At the NFL combine, Thomas Dimitroff said he believed the left guard battle involved three players, “I think we have three guys that will be competing for that spot right now as it stands,” Dimitroff said. “We have Jamon Brown, we have James Carpenter, we have [Matt] Gono. We have some guys there that we think definitely have ability.” Insert third-round selection Matt Hennessy, making the room that much more crowded. Though Hennessy played mostly center in college, he is in the conversation at left guard with Alex Mack still in the fold.
Let’s begin with veteran free agents Brown and Carpenter, who were brought in last season to compete for the two guard positions. Carpenter earned the nod at starting left guard, while Brown was beat out by rookie Chris Lindstrom. Starting 11 games last season, Carpenter performed miserably. His Pro Football Focus grade of 45.3 ranked 74th of 80 eligible guards.
After a foot injury in the season opener, Lindstrom was replaced by Brown. His performance was as dreary as Carpenter’s. Rated slightly higher than his counterpart, Brown was still 62nd among all guards, according to PFF. If either of these veterans wins the starting position, the other could be a trade candidate.
Entering his third season, Matt Gono has impressed the coaching staff in the preseason. Although he is regarded as a swing tackle, he will compete for the starting job at left guard. But if he disappoints mightily during the preseason, he could see himself on the chopping block.
The dark horse of this group is Matt Hennessy. He will have the most unpredictable effect on the other candidates if he is named the starter. Although Alex Mack is still considered a top center in the league, his aging is inevitable, leaving Hennessy to take over when Mack calls it quits eventually. So even if he loses the left guard battle, Hennessy will be on the roster for this season. If he does win the starting job, I suspect Gono will be kept due to his versatility, backing up both guard and tackle positions. This leaves the two veteran free agents brought in a year ago. Essentially paying two backups starting-caliber money is asinine.
This is where Thomas Dimitroff will be depended on to keep or cut those who lose out on the job and potentially trade one of the starting level contracts. But while this is undoubtedly the Falcons most significant question mark on offense, it is in a way better spot than it was last year. They have four legitimate options and youthful versatility across the offensive line. If Atlanta can figure out their hole at left guard, this offense should be among the best in the league.