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Falcons post-draft roster preview: Offensive line edition

It’s all about the trenches, and this regime gets it.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line position group has been has been heavily scrutinized for the better part of a decade. This group has seen quite a bit of turnover over that time, which includes a multitude of draft picks added—a few successful but mostly unsuccessful—and a myriad of free agents, most of which were also misses.

As a result, Matt Ryan has been hit too many times during the course of his career to make any coach or fan comfortable. Given that Ryan is headed towards the twilight of his career and his changing supporting cast, it becomes even more paramount to build a line in front of him that can keep him upright to ensure he can be at his most productive.

Under new general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith, it certainly is apparent that there is a focus on the trenches, as depth at every position is being retooled and two new starters will likely come out of this summer’s competitions. Coach Smith has made it a point to emphasize competition at all positions, so given his background in coaching the OL, there is a high level of interest on how this group is ultimately assembled.

Let’s dive into how the OL group looks after the 2021 Draft.

Starters

LT – Jake Matthews

2020 Stats: 16 games played, 16 games started

Jake Matthews has gone from being the 6th overall pick in the 2014 draft to the seasoned vet and is, as of now, the oldest member of the starting OL at 29 years old. Matthews has seen mixed reviews amongst Falcons fans, but has been very consistent at the one of most important jobs on the roster: protecting Matt Ryan’s blind side.

Even more impressive is Matthews has only missed one start going into his 8th season at LT. Matthews is a player I feel that has been a bit undervalued because he isn’t seen as an All Pro, but he’s been highly reliable, consistent and solid at a premium position.

RG – Chris Lindstrom

2020 Stats: 16 games played, 16 games started

Considered a surprise selection by some at the 16th pick of the 2019 NFL draft, Lindstrom was certainly selected at a position of need by former GM Thomas Dimitroff. Although he only started 5 games in his rookie year, Lindstrom has certainly cemented himself on the OL at RG as he’s shown consistent growth at the position over his two years in the league.

At this point in Coach Smith’s tenure, there are only two positions I see as solidified on the OL, and Lindstrom is certainly a starter in one of them. His best days should be ahead of him.

RT – Kaleb McGary

2020 Stats: 14 games played, 14 games started

Picked 31st overall in the 2019 NFL draft, Kaleb McGary was another pick made by former GM Dimitroff in an effort to address the OL. McGary started all 16 games in his rookie year and 14 in his sophomore campaign due to injury.

He possesses the attitude and toughness Coach Smith looks for in his linemen and has improved from year one to year two. A solid run blocker, McGary will have to make another jump in production going into his 3rd season—especially in pass protection—to solidify his position as starter.

C – Matt Hennessy

2020 Stats: 13 games played, 2 games started

Matt Hennessy was yet another effort by the previous regime to solidify the offensive line, being selected in the 3rd round of the 2019 NFL draft as the heir apparent to former C Alex Mack. Hennessy saw the majority of his snaps in his rookie season at LG with the ultimate belief he would take over a center.

Under new HC Arthur Smith, he’s still a favorite to take the starting position, but he will absolutely have to earn that spot in training camp due to the competition he will encounter.

LG – Jaylen Mayfield

I need to fully iterate how much this is a complete projection at this point, as this position is no where near solidified. Jaylen Mayfield was selected in the 3rd round of the 2021 NFL draft in order to compete for the vacated position.

Will Mayfield ultimately win the starting left guard position for the coming season? It remains to be seen, but I’m pretty certain he’s the future at the position. A big, powerful and young offensive lineman with good upside, Mayfield will absolutely have the opportunity to win LG outright.

Reserves

T/G - Matt Gono

2020 Stats: 16 games played, 4 games started

As someone who started out as a UDFA out of Wesley College, he’s shown real growth, and I’ve always been a fan of Matt Gono. A solid swing tackle with starting ability, if given the opportunity, Gono could likely carve out a starting role.

Under Smith, Gono will be given the opportunity to compete at the starting left guard position along with a few others. At the absolute worst, he will definitely fill a role as a top reserve on the offensive line with his talent and versatility.

G – Josh Andrews

2020 Stats: 15 games played, 4 games started

Josh Andrews has been a journeyman who ended up playing 15 games and started 4 games at guard for the New York Jets. Andrews was picked up in free agency Fontenot to add some experience to an otherwise very young offensive interior after cutting James Carpenter.

C/G – Drew Dalman

There was a question as to whether Coach Smith was all in on Matt Hennessy at center on the OL. The pick of Drew Dalman in the 4th round of the 2021 draft is proof that Coach Smith wants competition at the position.

Another very athletic offensive line with toughness and a good football IQ, Dalman will compete with Hennessy for the starting center position and may also compete for the starting left guard job. Dalman has an understanding of leverage, but he will absolutely need to get stronger to be an effective starter inside in the NFL.

Outlook

Now, this review is certainly dependent on how many OL Coach Smith chooses to carry. He could ultimately carry between 8-10 players on his OL group. The linemen above have a good deal of versatility, but there are a few other linemen to look out for that could force Smith to carry a few more options on the final 53, including this year’s crop of undrafted free agents.

There’s also a consideration that more players could be added this offseason before the roster is ultimately finalized. There is an argument that can be made that more experience is needed with this group, but it has been completely turned over to be one of the youngest groups currently on the roster. There’s plenty of talent, but plenty of questions, too.