UPDATE: The NFL Combine is here, with the on-field workouts officially kicking off today!
The 2019 NFL Combine is fast approaching, with the first groups of players arriving on Tuesday, February 26. We won’t get to see any on-field workouts until Friday, March 1, but we’ll begin to get informational tidbits—particularly from the weigh-ins—throughout the week. With just a few days left until things officially get underway, it’s time to preview some of the most interesting players at this year’s event for the Falcons.
If you’d like to take a look at the other positions, you can find them here:
We’ll be kicking things off this year with the offensive tackles—a position that Atlanta could draft as early as Round 1 and that qualifies as one of the team’s biggest needs. Luckily for the Falcons, this is a particularly strong class at the top. I currently have four OTs with a first round grade, all of whom are listed below. There are also plenty of good options on Day 2, which means that Atlanta has some flexibility with their draft selections.
Let’s take a look at the top prospects to watch at offensive tackle for the Falcons.
Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia
Listed Size: 6’5, 318
If the Falcons elect to bolster the defense with their first pick, an offensive tackle like WVU’s Yodny Cajuste could be an option early on Day 2. While Cajuste doesn’t offer the crazy upside of Cody Ford or the immediate high-level starting potential of Jawaan Taylor, he’s a quality player in his own right that should be able to provide an upgrade over Ryan Schraeder early in his career.
Cajuste has the size, strength, and nastiness to give an immediate boost to the running game, but he’s got technical limitations in pass protection that will take time to correct. I’m not sure how good of a fit he is in the zone blocking scheme, but his athletic testing at the Combine should reveal any shortcomings in that area.
Andre Dillard, Washington State
Listed Size: 6’5, 306
Washington State’s Andre Dillard seems to be a polarizing prospect in the draft community, with some analysts considering him a first round lock and others viewing him as nothing more than a late Day 2 player. Dillard is the classic “honeypot” offensive tackle prospect—he’s got great traits, looks athletic on tape, and should have sky-high potential. Somewhat unusually, Dillard is actually very capable in pass protection but extremely raw as a run blocker. He’s not a player I’d trust to start in his rookie season, but the developmental upside of a high-level NFL starter is there.
David Edwards, Wisconsin
Listed Size: 6’7, 315
If the Falcons don’t elect to go after an offensive tackle with their first pick, David Edwards from Wisconsin could be an option on Day 2. He’s not going to step in and become an instant impact starter, but he’s got great physical tools and athletic ability. I had the Falcons selecting Edwards in the second round in my second mock draft, and here’s how I described his skillset:
Edwards certainly looks the part at 6’7, 319 and possesses excellent athletic ability from his history of playing TE. Those looking for the Falcons to upgrade their run blocking will love Edwards’ nastiness in that area. He’s a mauler on the ground and he’s athletic enough to excel in the zone blocking scheme. Edwards has only recently transitioned to OT from TE, so his technique still needs a lot of refinement, but you simply can’t teach his physical tools.
Cody Ford, Oklahoma
Listed Size: 6’4, 330
Oklahoma’s Cody Ford has perhaps the highest upside of any offensive lineman in the 2019 NFL Draft, with a big frame and unbelievable athletic talent. He’s an elite run blocker that can excel in any scheme, and his size and strength make him very difficult to move in pass protection. He’s only been a full-time starter for a single year, but Ford is a quick learner and improved his technique rapidly over the 2018 season.
Ford has only ever player at right tackle, however, which could limit his appeal to some teams. Others view him as a better prospect at guard, which is probably true. Expect Ford’s testing to be among the best of all offensive linemen at the Combine—and I wouldn’t be surprised if his weight-adjusted numbers were right up there with some of the best ever. Ford should be one of the Falcons’ top options at pick 14, and he could fill a need at either RT or G.
Tytus Howard, Alabama State
Listed Size: 6’5, 299
Another Day 2 prospect for the Falcons if they don’t get one of the top options, Alabama State’s Tytus Howard is a small school standout with phenomenal athletic ability. Howard would be a great fit in a zone blocking scheme where he could make the most of his exceptional movement skills in space and quick feet. Technically, Howard is still quite raw, and he’ll need time in an NFL conditioning program to bring his strength up to an appropriate level. Still, Howard is my favorite of the mid-round OT prospects, and I think he can be the Falcons’ long-term answer at RT. It would be best not to count on him in his rookie season, however.
Greg Little, Mississippi
Listed Size: 6’6, 325
I’m not really sure how I feel about Mississippi’s Greg Little. On the one hand, all the traits you covet from an prototypical NFL OT are there: Little has great length, size, and athletic ability. On the other, Little shows serious technical flaws and a lack of functional strength that give me significant pause. To hear some analysts talk about Little, he’s one of the best OTs in the 2019 class. However, the concerns with him are simply too big to ignore for me. Little definitely has some of the highest upside in this year’s group, but he’s more of a Day 2 prospect in my eyes.
Kaleb McGary, Washington
Listed Size: 6’6, 306
If the Falcons elect to go after a “stopgap” free agent at OT—or perhaps hold on to Schraeder for one more season to see if he can break out of his slump—Washington’s Kaleb McGary could be an intriguing Day 2 option for Atlanta. I had the Falcons selecting McGary in the third round in my first mock draft, and here’s what I had to say about him:
McGary is big—6’6, 318—athletic, and strong. He’s got work to do with the finer points of his technique, particularly against speed on the outside, but McGary offers a lot of intangibles that you simply can’t teach. It would be a stretch to expect McGary to step in and play at a high level as a rookie, but his potential as a future bookend opposite Jake Matthews makes him a worthy third round selection.
Dalton Risner, Kansas State
Listed Size: 6’5, 300
A name that we saw briefly connected with the Falcons, Kansas State’s Dalton Risner might be the most likely of any OT in this list to actually end up in Atlanta. Risner is a mauler in the run game with a nasty, physical mean streak to his game that fans should love. While he’s not an elite athlete, he’s got enough mobility to fit in the Falcons’ zone blocking scheme. Risner dispelled concerns about his length with his measurements at the Senior Bowl, making him an ideal candidate to play OT in the NFL.
However, Risner has experience all over the offensive line, and he could move to either center or guard in the future without too much issue. He’s a technician and a very smart player with a deep understanding of the blocking scheme and his assignment. Risner needs to continue to refine his footwork—particularly in pass protection—but he’d be an immediate upgrade at RT for Atlanta and will almost assuredly be there at pick 14.
Jawaan Taylor, Florida
Listed Size: 6’5, 334
Florida’s Jawaan Taylor should test favorably at the Combine and could be one of the top choices for the Falcons in the first round. I recently mocked Taylor to Atlanta in my most recent 7-round mock draft, and this is what I had to say about him:
At 6’5, 334, Taylor is a mountain of a man. He’s surprisingly nimble for a man of that size too, with plenty of mobility for the Falcons’ zone blocking scheme. Taylor is the complete package—a stalwart in pass protection and a mauler in the running game. Plus, he’s a far better RT—his natural position—than LT, which could allow him to slide a bit further than he should. I think Taylor is the most pro-ready OT after Williams, and he’d be able to come in and start at RT from day one for the Falcons. Dimitroff has said protecting Matt Ryan is the biggest priority this offseason, and adding a top-tier RT is the best way to do that.
Jonah Williams, Alabama
Listed Size: 6’5, 297
The top offensive lineman in the 2019 draft class, Alabama’s Jonah Williams does it all—and does it well. He’s an elite technician that uses his superior understanding of leverage and excellent hand usage to defeat opponents that are bigger and stronger than he is. Which is good, because although Williams isn’t small by any means, he lacks ideal length for an NFL OT. Williams also possesses very good athletic ability and strength, making him a well-rounded player in both the run and pass game.
It goes without saying that I think Williams will be the first offensive lineman off the board, and he has very little chance of making it to pick 14. If he does wind up there, it will likely be because some teams view him as a guard only. Williams best fit is probably at LT, which wouldn’t necessarily make him an ideal selection for the Falcons. However, I have no doubt that he could transition to RT in time—it just may take Williams a season or two to fully grow into the position.
What are your thoughts on this group of OTs? Any prospects that you’re particularly interested in for Atlanta? In what round do you think the Falcons should address their need at tackle?