The right guard battle matters. The winner of the battle has to be an effective starting right guard for this Falcons offense to operate at an elite level, and while the Falcons can paper over a little weakness at the position, they truly cannot afford a bad player. As Eric Robinson alluded to yesterday, all eyes will be on the winner.
This is arguably the only classic starting job competition for this year’s team. The Falcons will be moving pieces around so much at nickel corner, linebacker, and along the defensive line that there aren’t true starting jobs on the line, while right guard is a position that will be expected to play every snap for 16 games. That’s a major, major role.
Here’s a breakdown of the battle ahead.
Wes Scwheitzer: 0 career starters, 2016 sixth round draft pick
Ben Garland: 0 careers starts, 2010 undrafted free agent
Sean Harlow: 0 career starts, 2017 fourth round draft pick
I’m including Harlow for posterity’s sake, but the team has basically ruled him out as a starting option in 2017. Schweitzer and Garland are the true contenders for this role, and neither one has an NFL regular season start at the position. That’s mildly discomforting, but I do genuinely like both players.
Schweitzer is the favorite, in my opinion, and has been all along. The Falcons expressed a lot of faith in him last year and let him compete openly with Chris Chester, and while he lost that battle and didn’t play last year, they clearly like last year’s sixth rounder, who is a pretty athletic, strong guard.
Garland has already become a legend here. He played defensive tackle and backed up like three spots on the offensive line last year, and his versatility makes him a key reserve at the very worst. He’s a strong, quality player.
This one will likely go down to the wire. I’d expect Schweitzer and Garland to split first team reps in training camp and split starts in preseason, meaning we likely won’t have a winner decided until after Week 3 at the earliest. You’ll be able to get a bead on who has the leg up by who starts in that critical third week, when the starters typically get longer run.
The Outcome: Schweitzer wins
I like Garland and think this is an honest competition he stands a chance of winning, but Schweitzer is the guy that’s under team control for another three years, and in my honest opinion he has more upside. If he looks good over the rest of the summer, he’s got it, and Garland will be the team’s backup center, an option at backup guard, and a deep reserve at defensive tackle if he’s needed.
Schweitzer will just have to be good enough to reward the team’s faith in him. Ideally, he’ll take the job and run with it, and the team will have a cheap, young starting guard through the end of the 2019 season.