The Atlanta Falcons offensive line was a noticeable problem throughout the 2021 season. In an attempt to help fix it, the first of two sixth-round picks on Georgia’s Justin Shaffer, who earned second team All-SEC honors at left guard for the Bulldogs.
After left guard Jalen Mayfield led the NFL in sacks allowed during his rookie year, the Falcons wanted to bring in competition. But is Shaffer the right player to push Mayfield?
Grading the Shaffer Pick
At 6-4, 319 pounds, Justin Shaffer is a big man. He plays to that size, with NFL.com describing him as a “Mauling bear at left guard who plays with a salty demeanor.” Following suit, Falcons coach Arthur Smith referred to Shaffer as a “big, nasty mauler.” Shaffer will enter the NFL as a ready-made run blocker with the ability to generate movement and finish blocks.
Shaffer’s biggest issues stem from his lack of elite athleticism. While he’s still functional when climbing to the second level and pulling on outside zone runs, he’s not exactly proficient. That’s especially worrisome considering that Smith’s offense is predicated on wide zone running concepts.
Falcons EXCLUSIVE NFL Draft: Atlanta Scouting Top FCS Pass Rusher?
Could the Falcons add the reigning FCS Defensive Player of the Year?
Falcons vs. Lions Preview: 3 Things to Watch For Atlanta Rookies
What to look out for in the Atlanta Falcons' preseason opener against the Detroit Lions
Chicago Connection: Trade of Bears LB Roquan Smith to Falcons?
Smith requested a trade from the Bears earlier this week.
Shaffer has some inconsistencies with his hands, and can be hit or miss in pass protection. His game aligns similarly to Mayfield’s in regards to being a better run than pass blocker, so it’s difficult to say that Atlanta really improved with the Shaffer pick.
It’s also important to note who else was on the board at the time - Shaffer’s Georgia teammate, Jamaree Salyer. While Salyer played left tackle in college, he’ll likely transition to guard in the NFL. He brings more versatility to the table, taking snaps at all five offensive line positions and was viewed as a better prospect than Shaffer throughout this cycle.
Ultimately, Shaffer was a sixth-round pick because his tape at Georgia implied that he was a scheme-specific prospect who would struggle against quicker athletes. The interesting part is the scheme that most thought he’d fit best in - a power-gap scheme - isn’t the one he’ll be entering in Atlanta.
Shaffer’s physicality and ability to move defensive lineman against their will is a much-needed addition to the Falcons offensive line, though he’s not a seamless fit. However, considering the stage of the draft Atlanta selected him, it’s difficult to fault the team too much.