Earlier this month, we took a look at pass rushers and defensive tackles in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft. However, those aren’t the only positions that would and should interest the Falcons in said draft.
The current guards under contact are Andy Levitre; who’s about to turn 32, but has been a steady veteran and good guard for the team since acquiring him via trade in 2015. This past season, he surrendered just 12 total pressures, which was tied for 3rd least among all guards. That him in that category with the likes of Josh Sitton, Clint Boling and others, all top-tier guards. He also allowed just 1 sack all year.
The question about Levitre is, do the Falcons want to save 7 million by letting him go? Do they believe he will recover fully from his injury that plagued him in the playoffs this past year? We should know the answer before the draft.
Another starting guard under contract is Wes Schweitzer. He came in and started the entire season in his second year in the pros and statistically he allowed 29 total pressures (sacks, hits, hurries combined) and 4 sacks. To put it into prospective, only 14 guards allowed more total pressures, and 9 more guards allowed more sacks. Take that for what it’s worth.
Ben Garland is a free agent Sean Harlow wasn’t active once last year, so the situation is unsettled after those two. I’d imagine guard would be addressed sometime this offseason. Let’s take a look at the draft possibilities. For realistic purposes, we’ll leave out Quenton Nelson, who is likely to go in the top 10-20 picks of the draft.
Will Hernandez: 6’2, 340. UTEP
It’s crazy to think that the Falcons would consider a guard who weighs 340 pounds when the Falcons run a zone blocking scheme which typically requires guards to be a bit more agile and athletic which usually means they’d be a bit smaller. Hernandez is that athletic for his size, however.
He is a bulldozer with quick feet. He has a lot of power within that 340 pound frame and once he gets his hands on a linebacker (or even lineman), it’s game over for said linebacker. His draft stock is a question mark. Some consider him a late first rounder, especially after the combine. But others see him going in the late 40s/early 50s. I’m not so sure the Falcons would take him with their first round choice, but if he is there in the second round and they have yet to add a guard, I think they pounce on him.
Isaiah Wynn: 6’2, 308. Georgia
Wynn was an offensive tackle in college, but due to lack of height, he’ll kick inside in the pros. That isn’t a recipe for disaster, as we’ve seen guys like Cody Whitehair, now a center for the Chicago Bears and raved about guard Forrest Lamp (who before injury) went from tackle to guard for the Chargers. He also played a bit of center in his collegiate career, so he’s a jack of all trades.
Wynn, meanwhile, has dominated senior bowl week and it’s making his transition look just as fluid as his footwork. He helped a unit which saw Sony Michel and Nick Chubb break rushing records for Georgia. He fits the size of most Atlanta Falcons interior linemen, he has the experience to play offensive tackle in case of emergency, and he’s likely to go on the first or second day of the draft. Don’t be stunned if the Falcons give him a long look when the draft rolls around.
Billy Price: 6’4, 315. Ohio State
Price is an interior lineman, period, whether he settles in at guard or center. He has the build and the technique to do either. That may very well move him up on teams drafts boards. Alex Mack isn’t getting any younger, so a guy like Price could come in and play guard for a few years and move Price to center. Who knows?
The only sure-fire first round guard, seems to be Quenton Nelson. Outside of that, these prospects are unknown as to where they may go. However, one thing is for certain, Price is a good player, a solid athlete, and a versatile fit.
Frank Ragnow: 6’4, 307. Arkansas
Like Price, Ragnow is a cross between center and guard. He’s earned a reputation as a technician in 2015, and in 2016 he didn’t allow a single sack. He was named best offensive lineman and best run blocker by the guys over at PFF for the 2016 season.
The 2017 season seemed like a year to boost his draft stock. Unfortunately, he got injured during the eighth game of the year, which caused him to miss the rest of the season. The question here would be if that injury would impact his draft stock and do teams believe he could play guard as well as he did center. Otherwise, he’d be a sure-fire first round choice. If he falls, the Falcons might benefit.
James Daniels: 6’4, 295. Iowa
Daniels was a center in college but he’s since been mocked a bit to Atlanta, and the only reason would be because of the possibility of him transitioning to guard. He is a rock solid run blocker and reliable in pass protection. He also has a lot of time starting under his belt as he has started more or less every game for the last three seasons for Iowa.
He can stand to add more weight and strength, which could pay dividends for him as well. He’s rock solid, and a strong 295. He looks a lot like Gabe Jackson, who’s now a very solid Raider, coming out of college.
Of course, there are other guys who the Atlanta Falcons will consider, and there are guys who aren’t on anyone’s radar who will probably jump up there after the Scouting Combine. However, keep an eye out for these players, as I believe they will be on the Falcons radar as they look to improve the interior of their offensive line.
Personally, I wouldn’t be opposed to taking one of these guys in the second round, and if another is somehow there in the 4th or something, taking another one. That allows the Falcons a lot of flexibility along the interior offensive line and gives them two linemen to develop if they decide to bench Wes Schweitzer, move on from Andy Levitre, and start grooming a replacement for Alex Mack.
Keep an eye out for my next article, as we’ll dive in to the prospects at tight end.