The center position has been anchored by one of the best in the game — Alex Mack — since he was brought in as a free agent ahead of the 2016 season, saving the Falcons from the dark ages they suffered at that position post-Todd McClure.
This article will almost exclusively be about Mack, with a touch on some depth, and what the Falcons may do in regard to the position in the post-Alex Mack days (hopefully avoiding the failures of 2013-2015).
Heading into 2020, Mack looks like he’ll continue anchoring down the center position for at least another year. Let’s get into what we saw from him in 2019 in the review.
C Alex Mack
2019 Stats: 16 games, 1,156 snaps, 2 sacks allowed, 9 total penalties, 72.1 Pro Football Focus grade (76.3 Pass Blocking; 72.1 Run Blocking)
Contract: 1 year remaining
Looking back on it, the Falcons really hit a home run with the signing of Mack in the 2016 offseason. He has provided the team with four years of Pro Bowl caliber work at a position where they were among the weakest in the NFL before his arrival.
Mack is no longer playing at an All-Pro level but he still provided rock solid play in the middle of the offensive line in 2019, grading out as an above average pass blocker and run blocker. He was ranked in the top 10 among PFF’s centers in terms of overall grade, and he played more snaps at the center position than anyone not named Jason Kelce.
The flip side of that coin is that Mack isn’t getting any younger. He is 33 years old, and his overall PFF grade in 2019 was the lowest in his career. The penalties were also concerning, as he finished second among all centers in that category.
Mack has one year left on his contract, giving Atlanta at least another season of interior stability.
G Wes Schweitzer
2019 stats: 15 games, 697 snaps (0 at center position), 2 sacks, 4 total penalties, 56.4 Pro Football Focus grade (58.0 Pass Blocking; 55.0 Run Blocking)
Contract: Unrestricted free agent
Alex Mack is an iron man who once played all of Super Bowl 51 with a broken leg — he didn’t miss any time, save for one snap, in 2019. If he were to have gone down, however, Wes Schweitzer would have been the “break glass in case of emergency” backup at the center position.
Schweitzer is a versatile option along the interior of the offensive line; but if the Falcons do bring him back in free agency it likely won’t be in a role where he is once again the immediate backup center.
G Sean Harlow
2019 stats: 1 game, 1 snap (at center), 0 sacks, 0 total penalties, Incomplete Pro Football Focus grade
Contract: Unrestricted free agent
Sean Harlow has never exhibited the makings of a good football player. If the Falcons were irresponsible enough to ever put Matt Ryan in a position where Harlow is his primary center, then I would not blame him if he left the field, went to the locker room, and retired on the spot.
Outlook: Solid (for now)
The Falcons have at least one year left to figure out what they’ll do at the center position long term. Mack could be extended, buying some more time, but this is something that should be at the forefront of Thomas Dimitroff’s mind going into the 2020 offseason.
If Mack can give the Falcons a couple more years of similar play to what we saw in 2019, it would coincide nicely with helping Atlanta win now with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones still in their primes.
The 2020 draft seems like an opportune time to spend a premium pick on a center of the future who can learn from Mack, and plug in at left guard until it’s time for that baton to be passed. Tyler Biadasz out of Wisconsin will likely be looked at as a dark-horse first round candidate for the Falcons going into the draft. Nick Harris could get a look if he’s there when the Birds pick in the second round.