Well, we’ve reached our fine group of Atlanta Falcons offensive tackles for our post-draft 2018 roster review, one of the more sure spots on the roster, and quite frankly, one of the less interesting spots to discuss.
But, boring is good here, and it’s quite reassuring that Atlanta doesn’t have any battles going on at this position for starting rights. Those are squarely held down by Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder, and will be for the foreseeable future.
But, the swing tackle discussion seems to be open, with a handful of suitors vying for that prize. Let’s dig in to the group and see who we’re working with.
Jake Matthews has held down protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side for the past four seasons, and is entering his contract year before he becomes a free age...I’m sorry, I can’t type that with a straight face. Good night, do some of you people think Matthews is going to reach free agency? Jake Matthews. The Falcons left tackle. That Jake Matthews?
The conversation around Matthews, a sound, if imperfect, left tackle, can get very jumbled, and veer off into unfounded territory. The fact that he’s not Tyron Smith or Trent Williams causes some fans to want the team to upgrade the position, completely forgetting how hard it is to groom a starting left tackle, and how effective Matthews has been in his four years. He’s not even on his second contract yet, and some would argue for him being a top-10 tackle in the league. He’s, at the worst, top-15, and though he’s known to struggle with power rushers from time to time, is as solid as a tackle as you can get.
He’s going to be the team’s left tackle for the next half-decade or so, and could be a career starter in Atlanta. He could obviously be better, but he’s only 26, and offensive linemen tend to have longer shelf lives than other position groups. So, when that deal does come through (perhaps over the summer, or in the season), don’t start complaining. Start being much more appreciative the Falcons don’t have any sorts of issues with one of the most important parts of an NFL roster. Matthews is about as good as you can ask for, and has room to grow.
Ryan Schraeder had a bit of a down year (the long-time PFF star ranked only at 29th overall in the league for tackles), but he did struggle with a concussion early that left him out for a brief spell. He’s still, even on his worst day, a solid right tackle, and is in the middle of a deal, so he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. One wonders if right tackle is a spot the team will keep an eye on as the years go by, and Schraeder gets older (he just turned 30), but more than likely, he’ll be here through the duration of his deal, giving Atlanta a sound foundation for their starting tackles.
Ty Sambrailo is the frontrunner to keep his swing tackle job, and with a fifth rounder for 2018 invested in his being in Atlanta, should, well, still...swing tackle. Sambrailo gets a bad rap for a guy who didn’t lose a game when he started. He’s got obvious flaws in pass protection, but actually is a very good run blocker, and his ability to start in a pinch and provide that run blocking prowess is part of why Atlanta will go to him over Austin Pasztor, who might not be quite as good of a run blocker as Sambrailo is. When your starting right tackle goes out, you’re bound to run the ball more anyhow, so the more dominant run defender will win the day there. We spoke with Sambrailo toward the end of last season if you’d like to read up on his time with the Birds so far.
Pasztor spent most of last season on the inactives list or hurt, but his time starting in Cleveland and what the team saw from him last year prompted them to bring him back for another go-around. Tackle depth is not something you want to fool around with, so keeping both Sambrailo and Pasztor around will help the team sleep better at night, as opposed to having to rely on Johnny Rando.
2017 UDFA and practice squadder Daniel Brunskill has the tools, but lacks the polish. One wonders how his year in the team’s developmental program has helped him, but even if he’s gotten substantially better than what we saw last preseason, he’s still a long shot to crack the roster. Though, he could return to the P.S. in 2018 if the team still thinks he’s got potential to meet.
The team only opted to add one 2018 UDFA option at tackle, with the versatile Wesley alum Matt Gono. Apparently, the team won a minor bidding war for Gono’s services, and this profile from the AJC’s D. Orlando Ledbetter outlines the journey that the D-III prospect has taken to get to the league. Gono’s ability to play both guard and tackle gives him that versatile edge that tends to help guys stick around on the 53, and he could be a surprise addition to an older offensive line that needs some youth to step up in the years to come. The more realistic spot for Gono would be the practice squad, but the team may wish to stash him on the roster for more down the line.
The Falcons will likely carry four tackles this season, with Matthews, Schraeder, Sambrailo and Pasztor all either locked to return, or are close to it. Brunskill could impress with his year of development, and Gono could be the surprise of camp to stick around, though in this scenario, he’d likely be listed as a guard first.
This is one of the more complete parts of the roster, and right now, the personnel is as such that they can weather a game or two with a starter missing from the lineup. But, extended absences from either Matthews or Schraeder wouldn’t be fun to deal with. For now, you feel really good about this position, even if not everyone is willing to give a guy like Matthews the props he deserves.