We’re in the depths of the offseason here at The Falcoholic, and there has been little to nothing in the way of interesting news in ages. So, we’ll have to make some content of our own in the meantime. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be bringing you a new Player Profile series where we’ll take a look at each of the players on Atlanta’s roster. I’ll break down their measurables, past production, and try to project their 2020 season with the Falcons.
After taking a look at the projected starters, we now turn our attention to the depth on the Falcons’ roster. Today, I’ll be discussing G/T Justin McCray—a veteran and former UDFA who has spent time at both guard and tackle during his NFL career.
G/T Justin McCray
Contract: $1.075M cap hit in 2020, free agent in 2021
Career Production: 40 games played, 17 games started | 56.3 overall PFF grade | 2 holding penalties, 6 false starts, 9 total penalties | 13 sacks allowed | 1 fumble recovery
2019 Production: 15 games played, 4 games started | 51.0 overall PFF grade | 3 false starts, 4 total penalties | 3 sacks allowed
Previous Teams: UDFA signed by the Tennessee Titans (2014-2015), Orlando Predators (2015, Arena Football League), Tampa Bay Storm (2016, Arena Football League), Green Bay Packers (2017-2018), Cleveland Browns (2019), Atlanta Falcons (2020)
Measurables: 6’3, 321 | 32” arm length, 9 3/4” hand size, 79 1/8” wingspan | 5.49 40-yard dash, 1.84 10-yard split | 7.87 3-cone | 99” broad jump, 25.5” vertical jump | 32 bench reps
Since the rash of offensive line injuries the team suffered in 2018, the Falcons have been desperate to beef up the depth across the OL. In 2019, we saw the team add two starting guards in free agency and a first-round pick at both guard and tackle. Even then, it wasn’t enough. Top pick Chris Lindstrom missed the vast majority of the season with a foot injury, James Carpenter and Jamon Brown were both injured and ineffective, and first-rounder Kaleb McGary struggled after missing the entirety of the preseason with a heart condition.
With continued woes on the offensive line, it made sense that the Falcons continued to invest in the position heading into 2020. Atlanta added a third-round pick in Matt Hennessy to beef up the interior depth, but also made an under-the-radar signing that could bolster both guard and tackle: veteran Justin McCray. McCray has had a bit of a wild ride in the NFL, beginning his career as a UDFA with the Titans in 2014 before being cut prior to the 2015 season. McCray then spent two seasons in the Arena Football League, biding his time for a return to the NFL.
His play in the AFL was apparently impressive enough to earn him another shot in the NFL, this time with the Green Bay Packers in 2017. McCray finally found his way onto the field, playing in 13 games and starting 8 at right tackle after injuries to the starters. He struggled on the outside, however, as his lack of length and average athleticism held him back. However, in 2018, McCray got an opportunity to start on the inside at right guard. His play improved noticeably, as McCray posted a very solid 64.9 PFF grade in his 5 starts—the highest mark of his career.
That strong season earned him interest from the Cleveland Browns, who traded for him prior to the 2019 season. The Browns used McCray primarily as a reserve OT, however, and he struggled in his 4 starts at the position. If the Falcons have figured out how to get the most out of McCray—i.e. by playing him at guard, not tackle—he has shown that he can be an average NFL starter. That may not sound all that exciting, but that would be better than the play Atlanta got out of James Carpenter and Jamon Brown in 2019.
Projection: Justin McCray has played the majority of his career at OT, but has shown that he’s a much better fit at guard in the NFL. If the Falcons plan to use him there, it’s possible that McCray can actually win the starting LG job in camp. While he’s better on the inside, McCray can still be a functional OT, and his versatility to play multiple spots could give him an edge at a roster spot. If Atlanta elects to keep 9 OL on the 53-man roster, expect McCray to make it.