It seems like the left guard job features some intrigue every year for the Falcons, at least since Andy Levitre retired. He hung up his cleats after an injury-wracked 2018 season, and each of the past two years, James Carpenter ended up winning the gig and playing most of the season at the position. That wasn’t exactly the most exciting outcome either time, but both times Carpenter had competition from the likes of Matt Hennessy, Matt Gono and Justin McCray (2020) and Jamon Brown (2019).
This year, the makeup of the competition has changed significantly. Carpenter was cut, veteran Josh Andrews was signed, and the Falcons drafted Jalen Mayfield and Drew Dalman to go up against Gono, Hennessy, Willie Wright and Willie Beavers. That’s not even mentioning a promising crop of undrafted free agents, so even if you mark Dalman and Mayfield down as options at center and dismiss Wright and Beavers entirely, the Mayfield/Gono/Andrews/surprise UDFA battle figures to be worth watching.
It also might be a battle the most experienced veteran wins, if OTAs are any indication. Both D. Orlando Ledbetter at the AJC and Tori McElhaney at The Athletic noted that Andrews is getting a lot of run at left guard early on, which may prove to be an ultimately meaningless May and June decision or an early harbinger of what’s to come.
#Falcons Josh Andrews appears to be is the offseason leader in the clubhouse at left guard. Spending a lot of time next to left tackle Jake Matthews.— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) June 2, 2021
Andrews, you’ll recall, signed in late March as part of Atlanta’s budget-conscious free agency period and seemed like a logical candidate for a reserve role on the interior of the offensive line, given his experience and scuffles as a starter for the Jets last year. Obviously the Falcons liked his skill set and versatility, and he’ll be the most experienced candidate of the group, but it’ll be a little more than a mild surprise to me if he’s running ahead of Mayfield, Gono and others in August.
Of course, this was never a competition free of question marks in the first place. We don’t know whether this team wants Gono to be in the mix for the starting job or if they’ll prefer him as the team’s swing tackle, given that he proved himself so capable of taking over for Kaleb McGary last year when called upon, and we don’t know at this point whether Hennessy or Dalman will even be a real part of the competition. That leaves Mayfield, who brings some intriguing nastiness to the group, but may or may not be ready to run with the job in his rookie season. In a competition without a clear frontrunner, experience may just win the day.
There’s still a ton of time for this to play out, so it’s wise not to place any big money bets on Andrews just yet. The early signs are positive for him, though.