Despite a relatively quiet beginning to free agency for the Falcons, the team was able to make one very impactful move: the signing of G Brandon Fusco from the San Francisco 49ers. Fusco started all 16 games for the 49ers in 2017, and has started 80 games total throughout his seven-year NFL career. He’s a good fit in the zone-blocking scheme and offers a well-rounded skillset in both pass protection and run blocking.
Fusco isn’t an elite player at the position, but the Falcons don’t need him to be. Atlanta’s offense set records in 2016 with an aging Chris Chester manning right guard. The team simply needs average to above-average guards in order to make the offense work, and I think Fusco can be closer to above-average when he’s surrounded by Alex Mack and Ryan Schraeder .
Add to that the fact that the Falcons got Fusco for a very affordable 3-year, $12.75M deal ($4.25M per year), and you can start to see why this underrated signing may have a big effect on Atlanta’s offense in 2018. Wes Schweitzer—while not terrible by any stretch—simply seemed overwhelmed at times in 2017, and it’s clear that the Falcons did not trust him with the job in 2018. With a dependable and experienced veteran in Fusco taking over RG, the Falcons can afford to let Schweitzer continue to develop—and possibly be in the mix to take over for LG Andy Levitre in 2019.
However, one consequence of this signing that many Falcons fans have seemingly yet to pick up on is the fact that Atlanta is now very unlikely to add another offensive lineman in the 2018 NFL Draft. As a big-time supporter of Isaiah Wynn and James Daniels to the Falcons, this hurts me deeply. But, to those that believe that Atlanta should still add another offensive lineman on Day 2, let me illustrate the issue for you.
The Falcons generally keep 8-9 OL on the 53-man roster during the season. In 2017, they did the same, with some shuffling required for injuries. With the addition of Fusco and the low-level re-signings and futures contracts that Atlanta has already executed, here’s who the Falcons have under contract in 2018:
LT Jake Matthews
LG Andy Levitre
C Alex Mack
RG Brandon Fusco
RT Ryan Schraeder
C/G Ben Garland
G Wes Schweitzer
G Sean Harlow
T Ty Sambrailo
T Austin Pasztor
G Jamil Douglas
OL Lucas Crowley
T Daniel Brunskill
If you count them up, that’s already 13 offensive linemen. Even ignoring the three more developmental guys, the Falcons are already at 10 OL—which is one more than they generally keep on the 53-man roster. Any draft selection would be in direct competition with Schweitzer and Harlow for the final roster spot, with at least one of them being cut during the preseason.
Sure, a Day 2 pick would theoretically be an upgrade over Schweitzer and Harlow. But using an early round selection to upgrade your 4th or 5th interior OL seems like a waste of resources—particularly with the Falcons’ needs elsewhere. It also means that you’re ready to jettison previous draft resources in Schweitzer—a 6th-round pick who wasn’t starting-caliber but looks like a solid reserve guard—or Harlow, a 4th-round pick from 2017 that hasn’t even seen the field yet.
Both of those decisions would be foolish at this time, which is why I firmly believe the Falcons are done addressing the offensive line in 2018. A late Day 3 selection and/or some intriguing UDFAs are certainly possible, but I actually really like the depth that the Falcons have already assembled. Even Jamil Douglas—a very late addition to the roster in 2017—has some potentially untapped ability as a 2015 4th-round pick.
The good news is that the Falcons can now afford to use that draft capital to address other needs on the roster. Instead of essentially being locked into a guard in the first or second round, Atlanta has the flexibility to target different positions. DT is obviously the biggest need going into the draft, with only Grady Jarrett, Jack Crawford, and a handful of futures players remaining on the roster. EDGE could also be addressed early with Clayborn and Shelby’s exits. TE2, WR3, FB, depth at LB—all are lower-level needs that need further investment.
I already have an example of how a draft might play out with offensive line out of the picture. In this particular mock, the Falcons double-dip at DT, add an EDGE early on Day 2, and are able to take care of some other needs later in the draft. This is just one example of the newfound flexibility that Fusco’s signing has given the team. The team could go TE earlier, for instance, or jump at the chance to select a falling talent at another position—like CB or S.
That flexibility is valuable for many reasons, because rigid adherence to draft needs can often get teams into trouble. Free agency has also only been going on for one week—we could still see the Falcons make some other moves, like bringing back DT Ahtyba Rubin. Hopefully, with one item on the list checked off, the Falcons can head into the 2018 NFL Draft with an arsenal of picks and the ability to go get the best players available that fit the scheme.
What are your thoughts on the Brandon Fusco signing? Are you in favor of the Falcons passing on OL in this draft in favor of more pressing needs, or do you still think Atlanta needs to add more depth to the position? What are your top draft needs for the team at this point?