How have the Falcons enjoyed such success on offense over the last decade-plus? Having a Hall of Fame caliber wide receiver and quarterback helps, as does having innumerable quality weapons to throw to and hand off to, and as we’ve chronicled the Falcons have been quite blessed in that regard.
But you don’t go anywhere without some semblance of a quality offensive line, particularly tackles. While the Falcons have some notable missteps over the years at both left tackle and right tackle, to say nothing of their depth, tackle has pretty reliably been the most stable and potent position along the offensive line in the Matt Ryan era.
Let’s review the history.
|2008||Todd Weiner||Tyson Clabo||Sam Baker||Wayne Gandy||Quinn Ojinnaka|
|2009||Sam Baker||Tyson Clabo||Quinn Ojinnaka||Will Svitek|
|2010||Sam Baker||Tyson Clabo||Will Svitek||Garrett Reynolds|
|2011||Sam Baker||Tyson Clabo||Will Svitek||Kirk Chambers|
|2012||Sam Baker||Tyson Clabo||Lamar Holmes||Phillipkeith Manley/etc.|
|2013||Sam Baker||Lamar Holmes||Jeremy Trueblood||Ryan Schraeder||Sean Locklear/Terren Jones/Levine Toilolo|
|2014||Jake Matthews||Ryan Schraeder||Gabe Garimi||Lamar Holmes||Jonathan Scott|
|2015||Jake Matthews||Ryan Schraeder||Jake Long||Tyler Polumbus||Bryce Harris|
|2016||Jake Matthews||Ryan Schraeder||Tom Compton|
|2017||Jake Matthews||Ryan Schraeder||Ty Sambrailo||Austin Pasztor|
|2018||Jake Matthews||Ryan Schraeder||Ty Sambrailo||Matt Gono|
After longtime Michael Vick blindside protector (read: right tackle) Todd Weiner hung them up following the 2008 season, the Falcons would have four straight seasons with the same set of starting tackles. Sam Baker had some genuinely good seasons when he was healthy, most notably 2012, but injuries to his back in particular kept robbing him of games and effectiveness and led to the team replacing him after the 2013 season. Tyson Clabo, meanwhile, was a rock solid right tackle with the requisite nastiness as a run blocker to be an asset on those Michael Turner-focused teams from 2008-2012.
It’s not exactly a coincidence that the Falcons were pretty darn good from 2008-2012 with their skill position players and a stable, quality line, but things started to go downhill in 2013. Baker was banged up and ineffective and Lamar Holmes was at best passable at right tackle that year, and injuries forced the Falcons to cycle through a murderer’s row of lousy and unproven tackles including the immortal Jeremy Trueblood, Sean Locklear, and (blessedly) Ryan Schraeder. It was Schraeder’s play in his limited opportunities, where he looked obviously better than a crispy Trueblood, that would vault him into a starting job opportunity in 2014.
Somehow, Atlanta managed to lock down their left side with Jake Matthews (who has been good-to-excellent since an injury-marred rookie season) and Schraeder, an undrafted gem who turned in four good-to-great seasons at right tackle before enduring a lousy 2018 that saw the team part ways with him. All told, the Falcons followed up four straight years of the Baker/Clabo duo with five straight years of Matthews/Schraeder, with just one awful year in between. That’s a mix of luck and skill, and now the team is hoping to get another (at least) five years out of the duo of Matthews and first round draft pick Kaleb McGary.
While the starters have largely been a success story, the depth has not. Will Svitek and Ty Sambrailo are the only two guys who have served multiple years as swing tackles for Atlanta and had any success doing so, with the team largely cycling through passable backups like Tom Compton and less passable ones like Trueblood. With Sambrailo’s third straight year as the swing tackle looming, he figures to be the biggest success story of the era, which is not necessarily a ringing endorsement of this team’s ability to find depth. Their efforts to plumb the draft for that depth have also mostly been failures, with Garrett Reynolds spending most of his time at tackle, Quinn Ojinnaka not doing much in his stint in Atlanta, and Lamar Holmes getting a real shot he couldn’t capitalize on.
At the moment, though, the future is bright at the tackle position. Matthews has emerged as one of the better left tackles in the NFL, McGary’s got evident talent if nothing else, Sambrailo’s a more than passable swing option, and Matt Gono’s still here and still intriguing. WIth guard following, though, the story won’t be quite as happy for our Falcons the next time we return to this series.