Atlanta’s been slowly and painstakingly building the kind of offense Arthur Smith dreams of. There’s the many-headed hydra of a dominant running back group, receivers who block well and loom over defensive backs, tight ends who fill every niche imaginable, and Feleipe Franks and whatever dark plans Smith is cooking up for him. If this group is healthy, well-coached, and Desmond Ridder proves to be a capable starter, no one’s going to be particularly excited to face off against the Falcons.
Of course, none of that works without a quality offensive line, which is what the Falcons are hoping they’ve finally built. The 2022 season was a testament to the acumen of offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford, who helped this team get competence out of a motley crew at left guard, and improving players like Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary. The team is returning four starters, three of them established players (and one of them perhaps the best player in the NFL at his position) and one a hopefully improving young center.
They’ve churned the depth along the offensive line, but more importantly, they may have found a long-term fix for the left guard position that has been a trouble spot for a while now. Matthew Bergeron’s addition gives Atlanta upside and promise where they need it. If that works out, the Falcons ought to be successful on offense, because a really good line gives all that weaponry the time and space they need to thrive.
Let’s break down the offensive line group now that the draft is behind us.
Starters: Jake Matthews and Kaleb McGary
Roster hopefuls: Ethan Greenidge, Barry Wesley, Josh Miles, Tyler Vrabel
Matthews is getting long in the tooth with a decade under his belt in Atlanta, but he remains a quality starting left tackle at worst, and one of the better Falcons’ offensive linemen in terms of pass protection. He has no challenger for that starting job this year.
Ditto McGary, who is locked in at right tackle for at least the short term after re-signing this spring. He’s fresh off his best season in the pros, one which saw him grade out as one of the better run blocking tackles in the NFL and solid in pass pro, and if he can build on or at least hold that level of play the Falcons will be very happy.
There’s a bit of a logjam for roles here, and with Germain Ifedi cut, no clear swing tackle favorite. Greenidge is a former Saint who plays multiple positions, but XFL import Wesley also plays most positions on the line and is fresh off a quality season in the spring league. MIles is an intriguing, imposing tackle who never put it together in Arizona but clearly has talent. Vrabel, who hung around all last year between injured reserve and the practice squad, should be in play for a practice squad spot again this season.
If I had to bet on someone at this point, it would be Wesley, given that the Falcons signed him and immediately turned around and cut Ifedi. It should be a compelling camp battle for the swing tackle role, though.
Starters: Matthew Bergeron and Chris Lindstrom
Likely reserves: Jalen Mayfield, Matthew Hennessy
Roster hopefuls: Justin Shaffer, Kyle Hinton
Lindstrom needs no introduction, as he’s one of the better young guards in the NFL. He’ll have right guard locked down for years to come if all goes well and is simply Atlanta’s best offensive lineman.
Bergeron has a ton of potential, especially as a run blocker, and seems destined to take the starting left guard job coming out of this summer. We can expect some rookie growing pains, but the Falcons would very much like to have their long-term guard duo represented between Lindstrom and Bergeron, and they probably do.
Mayfield remains a player the Falcons seem to like, even after a disastrous rookie season and a 2022 season wiped out by a back injury. I expect him to get the first crack at the role Germain Ifedi occupied last year, serving as the de facto backup right guard and right tackle, assuming he’s healthy and able to compete. If neither or true or he’s not showing the growth the team expects, they’ll likely look to add a veteran to replace him.
Hennessy can play both guard and center and held up well enough in both spots over the past two seasons to think he should have an inside track for a reserve role.
That leaves Shaffer and Hinton vying for a practice squad spot. Shaffer was last year’s sixth round pick and is a formidable run blocking guard, so if he developed at all a year ago on the practice squad, I’d pencil him in to return this year. Hinton is still just 25 and may be able to push his way into this competition with a strong summer.
Starter: Drew Dalman
Roster hopefuls: Jonotthan Harrison, Ryan Neuzil, Jovaughn Gwyn
Dalman had an inconsistent 2022 where he was arguably the weakest link on the offensive line—the Elijah-Wilkinson-injury-spurred rotation at left guard being the only other reasonable option—and struggled at times to snap the ball effectively. The Falcons clearly liked what they saw from him enough to trot him out there again as a starter in 2023, and I don’t expect a legitimate camp battle for the starting job between him and Matt Hennessy (or rookie Jovaughn Gwyn) this year. The hope will be that Dalman’s athleticism and the experience he received as a starter in 2022 will lead to an improved 2023.
There are no likely reserves here because Hennessy can play both center and guard, and thus the Falcons may not carry a true backup center on this roster. Gwyn is almost certainly ticketed for the practice squad if he doesn’t make the team, while Neuzil’s nasty blocking and positional versatility should at least give him a real shot at sticking again. Harrison is likely on the outside looking in.
The Falcons had a dominant run blocking offensive line last year, and they added a rookie who should be an improvement at left guard over the solid player(s) he’s replacing in Bergeron. Pass protection is a little bit more of a question mark, but it should be solid, and the days of Atlanta being undone by shaky line play appear to be over. That’s a welcome change.
All the pieces appear to be there for the Falcons to have a great offense, as I wrote above. If that’s going to be the case, an effective line will be a major piece of the puzzle, and the team will have to ensure they stock depth knowing they can’t count on good health alone. This will be a summer of competition along the offensive line that will be worth watching, but on the strength of their starting five alone, it’s hard not to feel good about where this group is headed.