The offensive line for the Falcons has consistently been a weakness for quite some time now. For the new regime, initially, it has been much the same.
As it sits now, only left tackle and right guard are set in stone, with other positions still in flux. As the new regime of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith are working on roster construction, the offensive line absolutely has the utmost priority. As a whole, the recent history of the left guard position hasn’t been ideal, but the hope is that this will change as quickly as humanly possible.
A brief history at the position
Under previous GM Thomas Dimitroff, the offensive line was an absolute debacle for long stretches. However, since 2008, the team had a decent amount of consistency at starting left guard.
Justin Blalock manned the position from 2007 (before the Dimitroff era) to 2014. In 2015, it was commendable when Dimitroff ended up trading for Andy Levitre when the regime wasn’t satisfied with the position going into training camp. Levitre revitalized his career in Atlanta and retired as a Falcon. However, after Levitre, the left guard position just morphed into a turnstile, going from Wes Schweitzer to James Carpenter.
As it sits right now, the position is still a grave weakness and quite possibly the weakest position on the roster as a whole. The battle for this spot is an important one, and as of now, I’m not so sure that the starter at left guard is currently on the roster. Let’s take a look at the candidates that are presently competing for the LG role.
Camp battle contenders
Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I considered Mayfield to be a reach. While he shows good burst out of his stance and shows a decent ability to climb to the second level and finish blocks in the run game, he was entirely too inexperienced to start immediately in the league.
That being stated, Mayfield having a horrible rookie season isn’t all on him. He was thrust into a role he never played after even seeing time taking snaps at right tackle to begin the offseason last year. He simply didn’t have the time needed to properly get his feet under him (pun intended), and the results were less than ideal, to say the least. The good news for Mayfield is that he has no where to go but up, but I’m not convinced that he’s the answer at the position unless he proves otherwise this year.
I’m one of those that believes that Dalman is also in consideration for the left guard position despite his experience at Center. Why? There are a few reasons, but one of those reasons is that he’s listed as a more general offensive lineman on the Atlanta Falcons official site.
A technician coming out of Stanford, the true weaknesses to his game are purely based around his functional strength, size and ability to anchor. For me, I want to see if he’s added more weight to his frame (though it looks pretty maxed out) and has added some strength because the athleticism and overall technique is there.
Coach Smith loves his big maulers with a nasty disposition, doesn’t he? Drafted in the 6th round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Shaffer definitely gives Smith that nasty and physical player he covets up front. Shaffer certainly passes the eye test as an NFL guard and is very rarely overpowered.
He shows a good ability to anchor, which is certainly a plus when you’re playing in the interior. While Shaffer isn’t an ideal guard in a zone blocking scheme, a part of me believes that he was drafted due to the insane number of powerful defensive tackles in the NFL South. The Falcons got absolutely bullied up front, and this pick felt like a response to that because Shaffer, while big and powerful, is painfully slow out of his stance and very limited laterally.
If Shaffer, by some wild stretch of the imagination, wins the starting role, that ends up being a really bad look for this regime given the earlier round resources they poured into left guard last offseason.
Who wins the battle?
As you can see, this list really doesn’t inspire lots of confidence. Going into camp and even during camp, I would be absolutely shocked if Fontenot and Smith don’t add another face to compete up front with this very young group.
In the NFL, especially now, it’s increasingly difficult to draft interior linemen and have them be outright stars coming out of the gate due to the style of offenses currently being run in college. As it sits currently, the majority of linemen drafted go through a development phase due to that fact. In regards to Mayfield, while I think he’ll be better, I’m not so sure how much better he will actually be.
What I am sure of is that Mayfield won’t be so good that Fontenot feels he doesn’t have to visit the free agent market to at least solidify the position until he or another player can be properly groomed. When it comes to the left guard position, while Mayfield is the de facto starter, more competition and experience would be extremely beneficial to help a porous offensive line and the offense as a whole.