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Senior Bowl preview: Offensive linemen to watch for the Falcons

Next up in our Senior Bowl preview is offensive line, where the Falcons return all five starters from 2021 but should strongly consider upgrading the unit. Several of the top prospects in the draft will be in Mobile, including massive OT Daniel Faalele.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 Guaranteed Rate Bowl - West Virginia v Minnesota Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s officially Draft Season here at The Falcoholic, with the Atlanta Falcons locked into the 8th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Based on the results of the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs, we also know that the Falcons will have the 58th pick as a result of the Julio Jones trade with the Titans. That gives the team three top-60 picks—and there’s the potential to add more with a few other player trades, if Atlanta is interested in making additional moves.

The next event on the offseason calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large. In case you missed any of the previous entries, you can find them here:

DL | LB | DB | WR | RB & TE | OL | QB

Next up is the offensive line, where the Falcons had one of the NFL’s worst pass blocking units in 2021.

OL

Atlanta’s OL allowed the most QB hits in the league and had the 12th worst sack rate at 6.5%. The rushing attack was also among the worst in the league—31st in yardage and 30th in yards per carry. Funnily enough, this is the position with by far the most roster stability this offseason. Atlanta returns LT Jake Matthews (good), LG Jalen Mayfield, C Matt Hennessy, RG Chris Lindstrom (good), and RT Kaleb McGary. The other three spots are big question marks. It’s unclear which of the three the team intends to build around in 2022, but it’s very clear that they need to bring in competition at all three spots.

This year’s Senior Bowl features an excellent offensive line class. A few of the most interesting prospects in the entire draft will be in Mobile. Daniel Faalele, Trevor Penning, Darian Kinnard, and Bernhard Raimann are just a few of the guys with a possible first-round ceiling. Here are some of the players I’ll be watching.

OT Daniel Faalele, Minnesota

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect in the entire draft class—and the Senior Bowl as well—Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele is a mountain of a man and has a chance to lift himself firmly into the first round discussion in Mobile. Here’s how I described his skillset in a previous mock draft:

Faalele is 6’8, 380. No, that is not a typo. Faalele is one of the biggest players in all of college football, and he pairs that size with surprising athleticism. He’s a truly rare player who can utterly overwhelm defenders with his size, length, and incredible power. While he’s not winning many foot races, Faalele has plenty of athletic ability to play the position and is actually a great athlete relative to his size. He has only two seasons of starting experience, and will undoubtedly take time to adjust to playing in the NFL. But make no mistake: Faalele has All-Pro potential at tackle. With McGary around for one more season, this is the perfect time to bring in a player like Faalele to develop.

OT Trevor Penning, Northern Iowa

One of the biggest risers of the 2021 season, Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning is a high-end tackle prospect who will be one of the premier OL players at the Senior Bowl. Here’s how I described Penning’s talents in a previous mock draft:

Penning is a prototypical OT at 6’7, 320. Big, long, and strong, Penning dominated his level of competition despite limited experience at tackle. He’s got plenty of athleticism to thrive in a zone blocking scheme, and enough physicality to succeed in power. Penning is a nasty, aggressive blocker in the run game and is a stone wall in pass protection. He’s also got experience at guard and could potentially play there in his rookie season if needed. Penning needs to improve his technique, most notably his use of leverage and hand placement, and will take time to adjust to the higher level of competition in the NFL. However, he’s got a Pro Bowl ceiling, and Atlanta offers an opportunity to ease into a starting role behind McGary.

OT Bernhard Raimann, Central Michigan

Another player that scouts will be watching closely in Mobile, Central Michigan’s Bernhard Raimann has undergone a significant transformation over his college career. Originally recruited as a tight end, Raimann transitioned to tackle after two seasons. Now 6’7 and over 300 pounds, he looks like a prototypical NFL OT. As you might expect, Raimann is still learning the technical aspects of the position, but he’s grown quick in his two years as a starter. He’s an exceptional athlete who would fit in perfectly in a zone rushing attack. Raimann has a sky-high ceiling, and I’m interested to see how he fares against the higher level of competition at the Senior Bowl.

G Zion Johnson, Boston College

A top guard prospect in the 2022 draft class, Zion Johnson has spent time at both left guard and left tackle during his three years as a starter at Boston College. Despite playing very well at LT, Johnson lacks high-end length at 6’3, 316 and is best served on the inside in the NFL. An athletic and physical blocker, Johnson is a strong fit in a zone scheme attack and he’s already a technically-refined pass protector. Look for Johnson to establish himself as a potential first-round pick in Mobile.

OL Darian Kinnard, Kentucky

Kentucky offensive lineman Darian Kinnard is a bit of a challenging evaluation. Kinnard spent his entire college career at right tackle, where he played very well. It’ll be a tough decision whether to stick on the outside or move inside to guard, where his 6’5, 345 frame would be even more imposing. Kinnard is a mauling run blocker and solid pass protector who offers scheme versatility in the run game. I’m interested to see where he plays at the Senior Bowl—scouts seem to be split on his best projection.

G Jamaree Salyer, Georgia

One of the best offensive linemen in a stacked unit at Georgia, Jamaree Salyer has played a versatile role over the years. At 6’4, 325 and without standout length, I personally see Salyer as a better fit at guard, where his athleticism and strength could be huge assets for his NFL projection. Salyer is a road grader in the running game who plays with a nasty edge, and he pairs it with a strong anchor and good hand technique in pass protection. As a Day 2 option, Salyer could be a possible fit for the Falcons and I’m interested to see where he lines up in Mobile.

Other players to watch:

OT Abraham Lucas, Washington State
OT Max Mitchell, Louisiana
OT Luke Goedeke, Central Michigan
G Ed Ingram, LSU
G Cole Strange, Chattanooga
OL Ja’Tyre Carter, Southern

I hope you’re enjoying our Senior Bowl preview series! I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl practices for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, February 4 through Thursday, February 6. Stay tuned tomorrow for our final position preview: quarterback.