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Falcons left guard battle might not be settled until after Sunday night

It’s hard to see Jalen Mayfield overtaking Josh Andrews this late in the summer, but it still seems to be on the table.

Atlanta Falcons Training Camp Photo by Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images

Jalen Mayfield’s summer has been anything but straightforward. The third round rookie out of Michigan was announced as a guard when the Falcons drafted him, and while they certainly indicated that they liked his versatility, guard is where he started out in rookie minicamp and organized team activities. An injury to Matt Gono knocked several planets out of orbit for Atlanta, though, and since then Mayfield has spent a lot of time at right tackle and a bit of time at left guard.

The length of that stint at right tackle will serve Mayfield well if he’s a reserve, because the Falcons could potentially plug him in at multiple positions in case of injury. It seemed to put him behind in the battle for left guard, where Josh Andrews consistently ran with the starters in practice ahead of Drew Dalman, but ESPN’s Mike Rothstein made an observation yesterday that might indicate that Mayfield is still in that competition.

It was just one series for both, but you’d be fair in assuming that if Andrews was the slam dunk starter, the Falcons would want to run him with his fellow starters as much as possible for the sake of cohesion and being ready for the season ahead. The fact that Mayfield still appears to be a factor here adds some late intrigue to the final preseason game, and makes me wonder if we might see Mayfield actually get a series or two with the starters in game action to see how he holds up.

Here’s something worth reinforcing: The Falcons are better off if Mayfield gets the job. That’s not a knock on Andrews, who has paced this competition all along and has had his moments in practice and games alike, but the team drafted Mayfield with the apparent intent to make him a long-term starter at left guard. He’s 21 years old, on an affordable four year contract and has considerable upside, where Andrews is 30 years old, has shown better as a reserve filling in than as a starter and has evident struggles with pass protection that Mayfield may also share. If Andrews was a lock to be demonstrably better than Mayfield, it would make sense to start him with this team bristling at the thought that they’re rebuilding, but I’m not sure the gap is significant enough to justify not letting Mayfield get invaluable game experience in 2021.

The Falcons, of course, will make the decision they think is best for their line this season, given that they have a 36-year-old quarterback and enough firepower to be terrific if that line holds up. Given that, I’m not sure I expect the rookie to steal this job away at the last second. The fact that Mayfield might still have a shot at unseating Andrews—or perhaps pushing his way into some playing time early in the year—still makes this final preseason game and the team’s regular season depth chart well worth watching.