We expect big things from Chris Lindstrom after the Atlanta Falcons selected him with the 14th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Boston College alum comes into the NFL as the top guard prospect in his draft class, and one of the key figures in solidifying the interior of Atlanta’s offensive line.
Lindstrom played right guard almost exclusively at Boston College, other than an emergency situation which forced him into the right tackle role for a few games. The Falcons also lined him up at right guard for rookie minicamp.
The purpose of this article is to make a case for why Lindstrom should be cross-trained by the Falcons at both the right guard and left guard positions, and why it might be best to start him at left guard outright, over the course of summer minicamps and training camp.
Let’s start with the most obvious reason — versatility makes for a valuable football player. Lindstrom has already proven his ability to step into the right tackle role in emergency situations; if he’s able to learn to play the LG position, that would be three out of five positions on the offensive line which he would be proficient in.
It’s been said that it takes three months for a left tackle to get learn how to play RT and to get comfortable with the position. I assume it would take around that much time for a right guard to get comfortable on the left side. By my count, Lindstrom would have plenty of time to learn the LG position before the season starts, four months from now.
If Lindstrom is trained exclusively as a RG and something happens which propels him into the left guard role in the middle of the season, then he’ll be well behind the curve and may struggle at the strange position right from the get go. Even if the team opts to play him at right guard, he should still be cross-trained over the summer to learn the position and to become versatile enough to step into the role if the situation calls for it.
Lindstrom may be the team’s best suited player to start at LG
While there are certainly plenty of similarities between the RG and LG roles, you normally want your left guard to be a better pass protector if you have a right handed quarterback.
The other guards on Atlanta’s roster are currently Jamon Brown, James Carpenter, and Wes Schweitzer. Lindstrom may already be the best pass protector among that group, as evidenced by his 0 sacks and 0 QB hits allowed in 363 pass blocking snaps at Boston College last year.
On 363 pass blocking snaps last season, Chris Lindstrom allowed 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, and only 4 hurries!— PFF ATL Falcons (@PFF_Falcons) April 26, 2019
PFF graded Lindstrom out with an elite 91.6 pass blocking grade for his senior season in college. Carpenter had a 71.9 pass blocking grade with the Jets last year, Schweitzer had a 70.2 pass blocking grade, and Brown had a 54.0 pass blocking grade with the Rams and Giants.
Now, Schweitzer, Carpenter, and Brown obviously faced NFL competition last season while Lindstrom was playing against college competition, but the results are still pretty striking. Given his superior pass blocking ability in addition to his great run blocking, Lindstrom would make for an excellent left guard.
Jamon Brown looks likelier to be on the roster in the long term than James Carpenter
The decision to select Chris Lindstrom with the 14th pick was a shocking one, since everyone figured Atlanta had their guard positions figured out after signing Brown and Carpenter in free agency. Brown was brought in to play RG while Carpenter was brought in to play LG.
Looking solely at the contracts given to them, it looks like the Falcons view Brown as the likelier candidate to be on the team beyond just this season.
Brown signed a 3 year, $18.75 million contract with $12.75 million in total guarantees, while Carpenter signed a 4 year, $21 million with $8.25 million in total guarantees.
Cutting Brown next offseason would result in a dead cap hit of over $8 million, making that an unfeasible scenario, while cutting Carpenter next offseason would result in a dead cap hit of just over $4 million. That would still be a tough pill to swallow, but it could happen if the team is really strapped for cash. Cutting Brown, however, just won’t happen because the dead cap hit is higher than the cap savings. Moreover, Brown is 26 years old while Carpenter is 30.
I know what you may be thinking — can’t we just move Brown to the left guard spot instead and keep Lindstrom at RG next season? In theory yes, but with how poor Brown was in pass protection last season, that isn’t something the Falcons are likely to do. Remember, your starting left guard needs to be a good pass blocker.
If Lindstrom is looked at exclusively as a right guard and Carpenter ends up being released next offseason, then you have an overpriced backup RG in Brown and you’re stuck with a hole at LG all over again.
Starting Lindstrom at LG puts him in between Alex Mack and Jake Matthews
I understand the argument for keeping Lindstrom at RG — it’s the position he’s most comfortable in, since that’s where he played throughout his college career. Being put into a new position in your first year of professional football seems daunting, but for Atlanta that specific position in question may be the most comfortable one on the offensive line.
The team’s left guard will line up in between center Alex Mack and left tackle Jake Matthews this upcoming season — Atlanta’s two Pro Bowl lineman who are among the best at their respective positions. Sandwiching Lindstrom in between Mack and Matthews will make life so much easier for him, especially as a rookie in unchartered NFL waters. There will be some room for error if he needs it, with two Pro Bowlers there to pick up some of the extra slack just in case.
At right guard, Lindstrom would line up next to Kaleb McGary, the right tackle Atlanta selected with the 31st overall selection in the draft. Lining up two rookies next to each other is a risky proposition, even if both were first-round selections. Even the Indianapolis Colts didn’t line their two rookie sensation lineman up next to each other last season, with Quentin Nelson starting at LG and Braden Smith starting at RT.
No matter where he lines up, I hope that Chris Lindstrom has wonderful rookie season and wonderful career in the NFL. Looking at Atlanta’s circumstances on the offensive line and his specific skillset, however, I’d argue that left guard is the ideal spot for Lindstrom’s talents in 2019 and beyond.