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Falcons training camp preview: Offensive tackle

With Falcons training camp just around the corner, we take a closer look at Atlanta’s offensive tackles. Left and right tackle appear to be settled, but the swing tackle job is suddenly interesting with Matt Gono’s availability unclear.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

With just over two weeks to go until the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. We continue our look at Atlanta’s offense with offensive tackle—where the starters on both sides are locked in, but the injury to incumbent swing tackle Matt Gono makes the rest of the depth chart unclear.

OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT

THE ESTABLISHED STARTERS: LT Jake Matthews, RT Kaleb McGary

LT Jake Matthews

6’5, 310 | 2020 Stats: 1113 snaps played, 3 penalties, 3 sacks allowed, 75.5 overall PFF grade

Ever since he was drafted 6th overall in 2014, Jake Matthews has reliably manned the left tackle position on the Falcons offensive line. While his early years were somewhat volatile, Matthews has continued to hone and improve his game to the point where he’s a fringe-Pro Bowl player each and every season. Matthews has been the model of consistency and durability in the NFL, scoring no lower than a 72.5 PFF grade and starting all 16 games in each year since his rookie season. Now 29 years old, Matthews is in the prime of his career and should continue to play at a high level under new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith.

RT Kaleb McGary

6’7, 320 | 2020 Stats: 890 snaps played, 1 penalty, 4 sacks allowed, 64.3 overall PFF grade

Another first-round offensive line selection for the Falcons, Kaleb McGary’s career has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. After missing most of his first training camp due to a precautionary heart procedure, McGary wound up starting all 16 games in what was a very up-and-down rookie year. In his second season, McGary improved his consistency and generally played at a solid level—his 64.3 PFF grade was just about league average. There are plenty of reasons to be excited about McGary’s future: he tested out as a 98th percentile athlete per RAS, improved in his second season, and is now playing in a scheme that better suits his talents. 2021 is the year for McGary to prove he’s the long-term future at right tackle.

THE SWING TACKLE BATTLE: Matt Gono, Jalen Mayfield, William Sweet

Matt Gono

6’4, 305 | 2020 Stats: 336 snaps played, 1 sack allowed, 54.9 overall PFF grade

Matt Gono has been a fan favorite ever since joining the team as a UDFA following the 2018 NFL Draft. With solid size and good athleticism, Gono was a logical developmental swing tackle candidate. When called upon to step into the starting lineup, Gono has largely acquitted himself well—particularly at tackle. At guard in 2020, Gono definitely struggled against some high-quality competition in Kansas City and Tampa Bay. The new coaching staff clearly values him highly, giving him a second-round tender which is worth $3.384M. That actually makes Gono the biggest “free agent” signing of the entire offseason.

However, Gono reportedly had offseason surgery somewhat recently. Very little is known about the procedure or the injury that necessitated it, which leaves Gono’s status for training camp and the season itself completely up in the air. That could leave an opening for another player to take over the job, at least initially, if Gono starts the season on the PUP list or IR.

Jalen Mayfield

6’5, 326 | 2020 Stats (College): 2 games played, 2 starts | 128 snaps played, 1 sack allowed, 76.1 overall PFF grade

The Falcons’ third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Jalen Mayfield spent his entire college career at right tackle. Although it’s believed that Mayfield will transition to guard—where he’s better suited in terms of skillset—and compete for the vacancy on the left side, the injury to Matt Gono could throw a wrench in things. Mayfield is easily the most talented option to replace Gono at swing tackle and could get a serious chance to do so. He’s got the overall body size and athleticism for tackle, but is lacking in terms of length. Mayfield is an excellent run blocker and could fit right in to Arthur Smith’s more balanced offensive attack.

William Sweet

6’6, 313 | 2020 Stats: N/A

Another former UDFA with aspirations for the swing tackle job, William Sweet has had a bit of a rough start to his NFL career. He signed with the Cardinals following the 2019 NFL Draft, but wound up on IR at the end of training camp. Sweet then spent most of the next summer with the 49ers, before being cut prior to the start of the 2020 NFL season. He was then signed to the Cowboys practice squad, where he spent the rest of the season before signing a futures contract for 2021. He was waived by Dallas in May and was claimed by the Falcons the very next day. Sweet has excellent size and length for the position and is a potentially dominant run blocker, but he’s limited athletically and can be a liability in pass protection.

THE DEPTH COMPETITION: Willie Beavers, Kion Smith

Willie Beavers

6’5, 320 | 2020 Stats: N/A

It’s unclear where some of these players will line up in training camp—the Falcons have taken to labeling almost every offensive lineman as “OL” on the roster—but Willie Beavers seems most likely to factor in at tackle due to his size and experience there in college. Beavers was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Vikings, but was waived prior to the start of the season and placed on the practice squad. He bounced between the Vikings, Patriots, Seahawks, Bears, and 49ers over the next few years before winding up on Atlanta’s practice squad last season. The team brought him back on a futures contract this offseason and the new staff kept him around to compete in camp.

Kion Smith

6’6, 315 | 2019* Stats (College): 11 games started

The next in the line of developmental swing tackle prospects, Kion Smith looks a lot more like Ryan Schraeder than Matt Gono. Smith has good size and solid athleticism to go along with great length. He’s definitely a project who lacks technique and strength throughout his frame, but Smith has the traits teams tend to covet in their tackle prospects. If Smith can impress enough in training camp, he’s got a strong chance to wind up on the practice squad for the 2021 NFL season.