Neither I nor likely the Atlanta Falcons staff knows what this offensive line will look like come week one of the 2021 season. However, there are a lot of intriguing options on the roster and dozens of different combinations the team can play with to find what offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford is looking for, the best five players.
In a tweet from D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta Falcons right guard Chris Lindstrom said he would be happy and willing to switch to left guard if the coaching staff asked it of him.
This very minor comment in the middle of a minicamp interview is quite possibly insignificant but, it could add a little twist to what many were expecting from this group
.When the Atlanta Falcons drafted Jaylen Mayfield in the 2021 NFL draft the immediate expectation was that he would compete for the left guard spot, which he has been seen doing during rookie minicamps and the first round of OTAs.
However, at this early stage, there is plenty of time for this staff to continue to move players around and find the right combination.
The left guard position is the most obvious hole on this line, and potentially on the entire roster. Mayfield will be expected to compete with veterans Josh Andrews, Matt Gono, and whichever center does not win the starting job between Matt Hennessy and rookie Drew Dalman should also be in the mix.
There are issues with all of those options. Josh Andrews is a career journeyman and while he has the versatility to play all three interior spots and provides good depth, he’s never been more than an average starter.
Gono is primarily a tackle, and while he has taken some reps at guard he is still inexperienced and struggled at the position. Hennessy struggled at guard in limited reps as a rookie, though he did face stiff competition, and should be expected to win the starting job at center.
Dalman and Mayfield are both rookies and would be going through a position change right out the gate. Starting your first NFL game not only at a new position but also with zero pro experience could spell disaster.
Moving Chris Lindstrom to the left could be the answer for the Atlanta Falcons
Stay with me here folks, Lindstrom is the best interior lineman on this roster, potentially the best lineman period with Jake Mathews as the only competition.
Lindstrom possesses the skillset and the professionalism to entrench himself in a position change and while changing sides is far from easy if anyone were to be able to handle such a move on short notice I’d put my money on Lindstrom to get it done.
Well, then who starts at right guard for the Atlanta Falcons?
"“There’s a lot to like about his raw power and tenacity as a blocker so there’s hope if he embraces a growth mindset and learns new techniques while forgetting bad habits. A move inside to guard may be his best chance to stick.” – Joe Marino"
"“He would benefit from a move inside to guard where his strength and ability to generate movement as a run blocker would outweigh his issues with lateral quickness.” – Lance Zierline"
With the talk about moving Mayfield from Tackle to guard quotes like this should be expected, except these aren’t about Mayfield, instead, they are pre-draft profiles for Atlanta Falcons right Tackle Kaleb McGary.
McGary has shown improvement at the right tackle spot early in his young career but still receives criticism for both his physical limitations, “short arms” and his athletic profile. More than a few analysts and content creators have speculated that McGary’s final landing spot may be on the inside.
Everything moves faster on the inside and McGary would have a lot to learn for the move but heading into the third year he at least has experience at the NFL level. His ceiling as a right tackle may never be more than a solid league-average starter, at guard he could be better if able to embrace the transition.
That leaves the right guard position open, enter Jaylen Mayfield and Matt Gono. Gono filled in for an injured McGary for the Atlanta Falcons in 2020 and has looked serviceable in limited action throughout his time with the team. He should have an opportunity to compete for a starting role on this line.
Mayfield played at right tackle at Michigan and his best fit as a rookie for the Atlanta Falcons would be in the position he is familiar with. While it is his college position, he still only has 15 games under his belt.
With such limited playing experience expecting him to step in a play right away is a tall task, to begin with, add in switching sides and moving to the inside and the transition feels extreme.
If the Atlanta Falcons want to trot out the best five players on this offensive line, making some positional changes may be the best way to do it. It’s not as easy as simply lining up differently and as retired line Geoff Schwartz points out, changing positions is hard in the NFL and does not always work out for the best.
With all that being said, moving Lindstrom to the left, McGary to the interior but the same side, and letting the right guard be someone natural at the position could be the best option.
It’s early in the off-season and we will see a ton of different alignments and groupings along the offensive line.
With the Julio Jones trade, there is money potentially add to this position group, further muddying the waters.
While there would be a lot of moving pieces in the above option an offensive line of Jake Mathews, Chris Lindstrom, Matt Hennessy, Kaleb McGary, Jaylen Mayfield may just possess the size, skill, and athleticism needed for Arthur Smith and the Atlanta Falcons to be successful in 2020.