New general manager Terry Fontenot made a move in the draft that we rarely saw from his predecessor: he took multiple offensive linemen in the middle rounds. Another rare move was selecting players who did not have a clear route to start. Fontenot grabbed Jalen Mayfield, a college tackle, early in the 3rd round, and center Drew Dalman early in the 4th round. The Falcons announced both players more generally as offensive linemen, suggesting they could fill in at different spots along the line.
The expectation was Mayfield would be in the running for the open left guard spot. After all, former first-round pick Kaleb McGary has been the starter at tackle for years, with the team’s most expensive free agent signing Matt Gono as great depth and competition. With Mayfield at guard, Dalman would compete with Matt Hennessy to replace Alex Mack. However, both McGary and Gono have failed to practice so far through camp.
Mayfield has pushed back to tackle with Dalman suddenly at guard. Early indications are positive, via the Falcoholic’s Kevin Knight.
Arthur Smith also said he was really impressed with how the rookie offensive linemen--Jalen Mayfield at RT and Drew Dalman, who was getting some 1st team reps at LG--were coming along. Said they had a good first day in pads.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2021
Rookie Drew Dalman rotating with veteran Josh Andrews at left guard in the final 11-on-11 session. #Falcons— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) August 3, 2021
Knight also shared that the trio of Mayfield, Dalman, and Hennessy at center have looked good to solid so far in training camp. It may be a little tough to evaluate offensive linemen considering who they are playing against. It is unlikely they will be truly tested until they play Miami and Cleveland in week 2 and 3 of the preseason, respectively.
Even though the defensive line is a work in progress, the early indications on the rookies is impressive. The zone blocking scheme being installed by Smith takes a good deal of coordination between players and practice to get the unit together. Considering this is a scheme change (despite the old coaching staff’s assurances otherwise), and multiple rookies are playing out of position, competency is notable. We should continue to see further improvements as the scheme is further installed.
Will either start? Tori McElhaney of The Athletic suggested McGary isn’t guaranteed to be the unquestioned starter whenever he returns. Dalman’s increased snaps with the first stringers also suggests we may have some good competition at guard.
Falcons fans should anticipate some movement with the starters. Smith and Fontenot did not draft players like McGary. Despite some players’ pedigrees, they may be replaced by younger and cheaper. Players like Mayfield and Dalman could sneak into starting by continuing to impress Smith.