The Falcons have a big decision looming in less than three weeks, when the 2023 NFL Draft begins and the team gets the opportunity to make their third consecutive top ten pick. They could do a half-dozen things with that pick, including scooping up an increasingly popular running back, addressing a still-needy defense, or even trading down.
Or they could add to the offensive line, where left guard remains a short-term need and left tackle might be a long-term one. NFL Network reporter James Palmer honed in on that possibility in a recent hit on Atlanta’s draft plans, noting that the team is doing their due diligence on top prospects like Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. and Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski.
What would the plan be? For a team that has Jake Matthews still playing well at left tackle, Drew Dalman seemingly having locked down center, and the right side of the line well settled with Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary, Palmer indicates the plan would likely be to start Johnson or Skoronski at left guard initially. The team’s current competition for that role features Jalen Mayfield, who is coming off a major back injury that cost him the 2022 season, plus Matt Hennessy and second-year guard Justin Shaffer. It goes without saying that while the Falcons can pull a starter out of that group and perhaps that player could even surprise, the upside is much higher with one of the top linemen in this class.
Long-term, that player could either lock down guard or shift to left tackle, as Matthews’ contract has pretty easy outs starting after the 2024 season. Palmer points to the second possibility as a likeliehood if the Falcons go this route. I know many fans would be loathe to invest a top ten pick in a guard, so knowing that’s a long-term plan that might soothe some of those worries.
This is just one report, but it’s one we ought to take seriously. The Falcons want to be one of the league’s dominant offenses, especially on the ground, and having a stellar offensive line goes a long way toward making that possible. The team already has a stellar coach in Dwayne Ledford who coaxed massive improvement out of the group from 2021 and 2022 and did so with a second-year pro at center and a stopgap veteran option at left guard, so giving him more talent to work with would only help.
My best guess remains a top defender like Texas Tech pass rusher Tyree Wilson or Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, but the Falcons have several avenues open to them and we ought not to dismiss any out of hand. If they decide to lean in on having a dominant offensive line to protect Desmond Ridder and pave the way for Tyler Allgeier, Cordarrelle Patterson and a to-be-determined addition at running back, it would be easy enough to understand the appeal.