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Expect the Falcons to draft OL, possibly plural, in the first 3 rounds

The clues have been myriad, and for once we can’t call it all a smokescreen.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

It may or may not be the priority for you when the draft arrives next week, but for the Atlanta Falcons, it looks like the line is going to be an early pick. Or even two.

The evidence for this is not concrete, but it all points in the same direction. The Falcons invested significantly in short-term solutions at guard, but Wes Schweitzer is a free agent after next year and Brandon Fusco is similarly only around for (at most) another year or two. There’s no backup center for Alex Mack on the roster, unless Adam Gettis is better than anyone expects. And the right tackle situation is Ty Sambrailo (typically a swing guy), Matt Gono, and versatile sometimes starter John Wetzel, which is a one year situation at best. The conclusion: The Falcons have not made any real long-term moves along their offensive line, meaning they still need young, capable starters in the near future.

James Carpenter and Jamon Brown are big moves, pun not entirely intended, and both could hold down a guard spot for 1-3 seasons. But the team’s only other moves this offseason have been to add back-of-the-roster competition in the form of guys like Gettis and Wetzel, and for a team that made it clear it wasn’t thrilled with its line play a year ago,

Then, of course, there’s what the team has been doing with their visits, and what they’ve been saying.

There’s this:

And this:

With the avowed interest in line prospects, which can be dismissed most years but not when you have so many long-term questions along a critical unit that the team has mostly neglected for a long time, you can make a strong case for a Cody Ford in round 1 or a Tytus Howard in round 2. Add in the team’s decision to mostly stand pat at tackle and you have a recipe for, if not a first round selection along the offensive line, at least one in the draft’s first two days.

I’m fine with that, even if I’ve had to warm up to the idea of a first rounder. This team has invested laughably little draft capital in the line under Dan Quinn, spending just a fourth, sixth and seventh rounder over three years and getting one average (depending on your viewpoint) starter out of that investment. A relatively deep class, especially at tackle, means a rare opportunity for the Falcons to make smart investments and have them potentially pay off. While I’d be less-than-thrilled to have two of the team’s first three picks go to offense, landing long-term starters at tackle and guard would be a welcome and necessary development.

Now we just wait to see whether it’s OL at 14 or OL later, but if the Falcons go the first three rounds without upgrading the trenches, they’ve learned very little.