The highs and lows of the NFL draft can be as extreme as watching a football game. Ed Oliver, the presumed top prospect for the Falcons, fell on draft night. The Falcons were not going to trade up to 3 for him but he was suddenly available at 7. The Falcons have a good relationship with the Jaguars, and if they could not work out a deal there, the Lions were reportedly strongly shopping 8.
Both teams stuck with their picks and Oliver fell into Buffalo’s lap. Hopes across Atlanta were dashed. Next came the draft’s top offensive lineman, Jonah Williams, and the next best defensive tackle, Christian Wilkins.
The Falcons did not trade up. At least not yet. They also did not go with a big name that dropped like in 2018. Atlanta grabbed arguably the top guard in the draft in Chris Lindstrom, then snuck back into the first round for new right tackle Kaleb McGary.
It was a weird night.
The Falcons have finally, finally, finally truly addressed the offensive line. The one constant for Matt Ryan has been a piecemeal line that has only occasionally looked competent (see 2016). We wanted to the Falcons to focus on the trenches and they did that last night.
Make no mistake that Lindstrom is easily the most talented guard Ryan has ever had in his career. Scouting reports suggest both players should be ready to contribute immediately, meaning we should see an entirely new offensive line. Both Lindstrom and McGary are highly athletic, mean, and reasonably polished. They are clearly big upgrades for Ryan and the offense.
If a player is perceived as a reach in April doesn’t really matter in September. If Ryan gets good protection and returns to his All Pro form, fans will forget passing on a bigger name defensive player.
It is hard to not remember the 2014 offseason after seeing the team ignore bigger needs and surprisingly double down on other positions. In fact, that 2014 storyline first started rearing its head before last night. Both new draft pick should be battling to start with a player the team just paid. I assume the Falcons like Ty Sambrailo because they decided to pay him $5.25 million in 2019, but not enough to immediately find a replacement. The Falcons shockingly kept Brandon Fusco and his $4 million base salary then immediately signed two more guards. More shocking is they kept him after March 17 when $1 million of that salary guarantees. New guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown received $8.25 and $12.75 million guaranteed, respectively.
There’s a possibility the Falcons have well over $10 million of cap space dedicated to backup offensive linemen. Depth is great but that is embarrassing for a team so close to the cap. Two above average defensive veterans would have been a big help. Things clearly did not go to plan.
Free agency made it clear the Falcons were going to address the defense often and early in the draft. Dave Choate said ignoring the defensive line would be malpractice. I predicted we would see upwards of 80% of the draft picks end up on defense. 2018 showed the team desperately lacked depth at multiple key positions. Now the Falcons need to work magic in the 4th and later rounds, and hope Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley dramatically improve.
Our best hope is the offense carrying this team and the defense doing enough to not lose games. With the improved offensive line that could be pretty easy but this defense will not be pretty.