I have kept a close eye on the left guard position battle all offseason, and nothing that happened in Week 1 surprised me. Let’s go all the way back from the very beginning. Before injuries depleted the offensive line depth, I figured Matt Gono and Jalen Mayfield would battle it out for the starting job. I leaned towards Gono starting because of his experience, but 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, all eyes went to the competition between Josh Andrews and Mayfield. Injuries lingered into training camp, which forced the staff to play the rookie at tackle, failing miserably in the process. As he took snaps at tackle, nobody was there to challenge Andrews, so the veteran became the assumed starter. Eventually, Andrews would be placed on the IR after breaking his hands a short time after the 53-man roster was made official.
Even with Andrews in line to start, I was uneasy because of his limited ability in pass protection. At the earliest, Andrews is eligible to return after Week 3, so we were back to naming a starter ahead of Philadelphia — Mayfield vs. Colby Gossett. Mayfield got the nod and performed as bad as one could in their first NFL start. He struggled in pass protection against a very stout Eagles defensive front. Arthur Smith addressed the specific matchup with Fletcher Cox before 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 that terrorized the Falcons offensive line Sunday afternoon.
What’s even more difficult to imagine: it won’t get much easier for whoever starts over the next couple of weeks; in fact, he will be facing arguably 11 of the top 30 interior defensive linemen 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.
Up next is Vea, Suh, and Gholston in Week 2, so who should start? Arthur Smith has already confirmed the possibility of playing someone else at left guard.
Falcons HC Arthur Smith left open the possibility to playing someone else at left guard this week.
Sounds like there could be a competition again between Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman and perhaps others.
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) September 13, 2021
Drew Dalman played minimally but looked much better than his draft classmate in Mayfield. Still, starting Mayfield would make sense because benching him would send the wrong message about your 68th overall pick. Fontenot drafted him to be an eventual starter, so one bad outing shouldn’t deter their analysis of him. Mayfield had his struggles, but with Andrews returning at the earliest in Week 4, they should stick with the rookie third-round pick, unless of course, the staff dips into the free agent market and brings in a starting-caliber guard.