Arthur Blank already let slip that he expects the Falcons to address left guard in the draft, and there will of course be free agent options if Atlanta simply wants to spend more money at the position for some reason.
Yet I don’t know if we can entirely rule out Atlanta solving this particular issue in-house for 2020. Unless they’re willing to spend an early round draft pick at the position—and I go back and forth on the wisdom of that move—they may not be getting an immediate starter out of this class. If that’s the case, they may actually need to find a stopgap option in-house, as unpopular as that might be.
Quietly—almost silently, really—the Falcons are in a decent position to do that. They’re not going to keep everyone and they need to cut wisely, but right now they could come into the season with James Carpenter, Jamon Brown, Ty Sambrailo, Matt Gono, and perhaps Sean Harlow all competing for the left guard job. There’s not a single inspiring name in that group, but in an actual honest competition, the winner would probably be good enough to get them through the year if the rest of the starters can stay reasonably healthy.
There’s precedent for this. The Falcons were great offensively in 2016 and pretty good in 2017 with an aging Chris Chester and a young Wes Schweitzer locking down one of the guard jobs, respectively, because they had poured resources into fixing up the rest of their line. Next year, with four former first round picks taking up the other spots and a laundry list of priorities ranging from running back to defensive line to the secondary, it would be nice if the Falcons could repeat that balancing act.
Who would it be? My personal pick is Gono, a player I’ve been intrigued by for a while and still deserves a real chance to compete for a role. Sambrailo at guard isn’t ideal but he’s certainly capable, Brown on the left side seems like it might not go well, and Carpenter was pretty awful at the position just a year ago. Harlow is a pipe dream, so it’d likely come down to one of those four, with a later draft pick potentially mixing in. I know that you’re probably making retching sounds just reading that, but do bear in mind that Chester’s Pro Football Focus grade in that dominant 2016 year was just 50.5, good for 65th among all guards. Only Carpenter put up a worse grade than that a year ago, and that was his lowest grade in years.
I’m not advocating against drafting a guard, which I hope is evident. I just don’t think the wisest course of action for this team is belatedly investing yet another 1st or 2nd rounder at guard when there are so many outstanding defensive needs and having a solid starter with quality depth should be enough. We’ll find out soon enough whether Atlanta’s willing to take that chance.