We’re still reeling from the latest Falcons curveball on draft night. Chris Lindstrom was popularly mocked as a second round pick, even though some analysts genuinely love his talent, and the Falcons just made him the 14th overall selection. It’ll take some time to come to terms with this, and that’s completely okay, whether you hate the pick or love it.
That doesn’t mean we’re gonna sit around and blink rapidly, though. It’s time to take a closer look at the offensive line and figure out what’s going to happen from here, at least before we get further clarity from the Falcons themselves.
Lindstorm is a plus athlete. He’s not the strong guy in the world, but he’s got the size and feet to play tackle if the Falcons want him to, but evidently that’s not on the table.
Don't anticipate seeing Chris Lindstrom make any transition to tackle with the Falcons. He's all in as a guard.— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) April 26, 2019
That means the Falcons are set at tackle pending any Day 2 additions, and apparent Atlanta darling Tytus Howard just went in the first round. Barring that addition, the Falcons will have a very good starter at left tackle in Jake Matthews, an athletic stopgap right tackle with an impressive 2018 and less impressive every other year of his career in Ty Sambrailo, and former Cardinal stopgap starter John Wetzel as depth. Matt Gono is also here, though he may be hard-pressed to make a crowded roster.
Sambrailo has the very real potential to be the major weak point on this offensive line. If he can play at the level he did a year ago the Falcons will weather 2019 fine, but it would not surprise me to learn that they’re sniffing around tackles on Friday.
This is where things just got extremely interesting.
The Falcons currently have fresh free agent signings Jamon Brown and James Carpenter, the presumptive starters heading into tonight, as well as long-time starter and veteran Brandon Fusco (who got hurt in 2018, limiting said starts for Atlanta) and sometimes starter Wes Schweitzer, plus practice squad option Sean Harlow. They have a ridiculous number of bodies and are going to need to clear that logjam somehow between now and the start of the season.
Carpenter is still the heavy favorite to start at one of the guard spots, and he’s traditionally played on the left side, making me suspect that Lindstrom is your day one starter at right guard. That puts Jamon Brown either as a pretty damn expensive backup or a potential candidate to compete at right tackle, where he has a passable chance of beating out Sambrailo. That’s just speculation at this point, though.
I’d expect the Falcons to roll on with Carpenter, Lindstrom, Schweitzer, perhaps Brown, and Harlow as their guard options, with Fusco finding himself on the outs as a post-June 1 cut to help pay for the draft class. He’s been solid his entire career and his contract would have made him an affordable starter in 2019, so that unfortunate injury last year is proving to be a nightmare.
For what it’s worth, Brandon Fusco is a smart guy and knows exactly what this selection means.
I don’t doubt Fusco lands somewhere else as a starter, given his track record, and we’ll wish him well wherever he goes. The long-term questions at the position concern where Lindstorm will wind up (left guard post-Carpenter?), whether Brown sticks at guard, and whether Schweitzer and Harlow are going to be around long-term as depth. Despite the number of options, this position grouping feels profoundly unsettled.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention Adam Gettis, who is now a tremendous longshot.
It’s just Alex Mack right now. The Falcons may look for a long-term option here later on, but it’s pretty clear they’re riding with Mack for 2019, and he’s done nothing to dissuade them from doing so. Even with some slippage, he’s one of the league’s better pivots.
If the Falcons can’t or won’t invest in someone to groom over the long haul, a longer look at Schweitzer or Harlow as a potential option is worth a moment’s consideration. Otherwise, they’re likely to ride with Gettis or (another longshot) Fusco as Mack’s direct backup, which would at least give them some veteran depth minus Ben Garland.
How’s this line looking?
Great at left tackle, rock solid at center, uncertain everywhere else.
What the Falcons have done is given themselves competition everywhere they had question marks, with an opportunity to let the best men win out of Brown, Carpenter, Schweitzer, Fusco and Lindstrom at guard and Sambrailo, Wetzel, and maybe Brown at right tackle. Lindstrom’s athleticism and brilliant senior year at Boston College give me hope that he can be an impactful starter at guard right away, but the Falcons are still trotting out stopgaps at two positions unless they can land a high-upside tackle in the second or third round.
For all the investment of draft capital and money this offseason, then, the Falcons’ offensive line should be at least marginally better but had better be a hell of a lot better than that. The key to all of it is the Lindstrom pick, which is either going to make this team look like a bunch of geniuses for nabbing an elite offensive lineman or lead to their downfall if they whiffed and didn’t do enough to improve other positions.
Me? As much as I didn’t expect and didn’t exactly welcome the Lindstrom pick on first blush, I do like his talent and fit in Atlanta, and I was quite happy with the additions of Brown and Carpenter. I’ll hope for more clarity on where exactly everyone is lining up in the days and weeks ahead, but suffice to say I’m cautiously optimistic about Atlanta finally solving one of their eternal guard needs for a long time with the new guy.