If the Falcons were to start the season right now, sending us all scrambling to refill our blood pressure medications and hit our local liquor stores, their offensive line would feel pretty incomplete. Jake Matthews has been a fixture at left tackle since 2014, Chris Lindstrom is already a great player at right guard, and Kaleb McGary is an improving right tackle. There are two spots on the line that are not necessarily locks, however, and even if starters are already on the roster for Atlanta, that leaves this team with effectively zero depth.
Today, the team’s competition for the left guard and center spots is Matt Hennessy at center and Matt Gono at left guard, with 25 year old Willie Wright mixing in at guard after spending all of 2020 on the practice squad. It goes without saying that it is not ideal for the Falcons to not have a compelling alternative to either of those players in case they falter, and they are effectively down to just enough cap space to sign one or two veterans at minimum salaries. Nobody they get at this stage of the offseason for those dollars is likely to be a strong bet to beat out the incumbents already on the roster.
The fact that Atlanta hasn’t moved more aggressively to address this—they’ve been rumored to be interested in centers, but haven’t come up with anyone to this point—suggests they’ll let the market continue to cool and see who might be out there later this summer when they may have freed up money. More than anything, though, it suggests the draft is going to be critical for Atlanta when it comes to addressing the line.
Fontenot’s vow to use the draft to get the best players regardless of position will butt up against the reality that Atlanta hasn’t had the opportunity to actually address every need, most notably at the safety position, where right now Erik Harris and Jaylinn Hawkins would be starting. That’s also likely to be the case along the offensive line, where the Falcons will probably sink more than one pick on the “best” player who happens to also be a lineman. If one of those isn’t a guard or center in the first four rounds, I will eat a sandwich I don’t like very much, like something with a lot of lettuce.
This is not so much a slight to Gono and Hennessy as it is an acknowledgement that no team in the NFL would feel comfortable handing two starting jobs to two relatively unproven linemen when the rest of their offense is in pretty good shape. Gono has been a better tackle than a guard, and Hennessy simply did not have a great rookie season, even if I imagine the team still thinks of him as a promising option on the interior. Wright is simply unproven, though the team may wind up counting on him as depth if they don’t make a few additions to the line in the months ahead.
Philosophically, Fontenot has been clear about how he wants to approach this draft, and I believe him when he says best player available will rule the day. No team can truly go BPA over nine picks without papering over major holes on the roster, and Atlanta’s laughably small amount of cap space ensures that unless they’re working on a coup of a signing set to arrive in the next few weeks after they make changes to Grady Jarrett’s contract, the offensive line will have to be addressed. Fortunately for them, this is what our own Eric Robinson calls a solid interior offensive line class, so they may get lucky enough to have the best guy on their board line up with what figures to be a fairly pressing need.