Alright, time for another look at the current state of the Atlanta Falcons’ roster in this series of 2018 post-draft roster reviews.
We’ll meander over to the guards now, and see how the team is looking to keep Matt Ryan upright on the interior of the OL.
We know Andy Levitre is back for another (and possibly final) season after taking a bit of a pay cut last spring, and that the team signed ex-49ers guard Brandon Fusco to presumably take over for Wes Schweitzer at right guard.
Ben Garland also signed his second-round tender to pay him good money to be quality depth at the position, and if Schweitzer is indeed out of the starting lineup, he’s a heck of a fallback option.
So, how’s the group look as a whole?
Starting left guard Andy Levitre is in the final year of his restructured contract, and has been a stable surprise ever since the team made the last-minute decision to add him to the roster in 2015. He struggled for a spell in Tennessee before regaining his prowess blocking in Kyle Shanahan’s zone scheme, and has proven to be the left guard the team so desperately needed after parting ways with Justin Blalock. Part of you wonders if the team will be afraid to part ways with him after 2018 and re-signs him to a two-year extension just to ride out this Super Bowl window with a proven veteran at a reasonable cost, but he could also cash in on a last contract if he wanted to. He also struggled last season with a nasty tricep tear, so you hope, even in his veteran years, he can heal up and still be the guy we know him to be. Levitre’s been a reliable presence, and it’s great to have him entrenched for the season.
New right guard Brandon Fusco reminds you of Chris Chester — he had a good year as a pass blocker in San Fran, and the run blocking tends to take care of itself in the Shanny scheme as long as the offensive lineman is athletic and can get up field (which isn’t always a guarantee). He’s the kind of stop-gap option Thomas Dimitroff loves for the spot, and while no one should expect Fusco to play at an All-Pro level, he should give the offensive line as a whole as sense of cohesion that lacked when Schweitzer was in the lineup. That’s not to say Wes won’t be a quality starter down the road, but when you’re gunning for a ring, it’s better to let the seasoned hands lead the pack sometimes, and the Falcons have indicated this offseason that they don’t trust Schweitzer with that responsibility right now. Fusco should be what you need to get that veteran stability back to the position Chester left behind.
Ben Garland is the primary backup for Andy Levitre and Alex Mack, so it makes sense to pay him. He’s not a world-breaker as a starter, at least at guard, but he’s really good depth, and can fill in for a game or two if you need him. His ceiling at center is much higher, but his versatility is unmatched by anyone on the offensive line. The team is going to pay him a ton of money to be a backup for a reason.
Wes Schweitzer got moved to the reserves group with the Fusco signing, but don’t be alarmed. He will get more time to grow, and he’s already got some promising starting experience under his belt for a sixth-round pick in 2016. He’s overachieved for his draft status, and can be counted on to help out if Fusco gets hurt. Few positions on the roster give you as much confidence in their depth as the guard group does. Though, for Wes, one wonders if his former position coach Keith Carter would be interested in a reunion now that he’s the OL coach with the Titans, and Matt LaFleur is their OC.
After that, the light shifts to international man of mystery Sean Harlow, the 2017 fourth rounder who may or may not be Levitre’s successor. We’ve virtually heard nothing about Harlow’s development or where he’s at, which makes him a perplexing piece of the puzzle moving forward. On one hand, he looked rawer than an uncooked slab of ground round last preseason, and could just be a big ball of clay the team is continuing to mold. The jury might still be deliberating in his corner, and his true fate could stay sealed until 2019, when he could, hypothetically, vie for Levitre’s job. He could be just not quite ready for the league (which would be a bummer), and cut with the depth at guard already present. He could somehow be a promising player now and give Levitre a little heat in camp. He could just be a career backup. Nobody knows anything about this guy, but August will fill in the gap. Maybe.
Jamil Douglas is an interesting guy to have around, as he’s started for the Patriots in the past. He’s got veteran experience and seems to fit the system, so maybe he could be a surprise addition to the roster.
We talked about UDFA Matt Gono in the tackles group, but he can play guard as well, so keep an eye out for him. Utah State UDFA G Salesi Uhatafe is the other new post-draft face, and with the group so deep right now, his odds of making the roster are slim. But, the team loves to develop guys, and if he impresses, he could be on the fast track to a practice squad spot where he could get time to train for more down the road. Sometimes, that’s not a bad thing for a guy like Uhatafe.
The Falcons’ guard room is jam-packed with good-if-not-great talent, but sometimes, that’s all you need to get the job done. Levitre and Fusco are the guys that will join Alex Mack to build the team’s interior offensive wall, while Garland and Schweitzer will stand as excellent depth. Douglas, Gono and Uhatafe will all compete for spots with the organization, and Harlow will continue to befuddle us all with what on Earth he’s capable of.
You feel good about this spot, even if injury strikes. That’s key, so kudos to Dimitroff and company for making us feel good about the team’s guard situation for the season to come.