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Falcons Turn to 'Homegrown' Talent to Fix O-Line

The Atlanta Falcons are hoping for better offensive line play in 2021.

The Atlanta Falcons' previous general manager Thomas Dimitroff used just about everything at his disposal to fix the offensive line ahead of the 2019 season. The little capital the team had for free agents mostly went to signing guards James Carpenter and Jamon Brown. 

In the draft, Dimitroff not only took guard Chris Lindstrom but also traded back into the first round to select right tackle Kaleb McGary.

But the plan didn't really work. Lindstrom and McGary are still on the roster but are still mostly just potentially great players rather than already Pro Bowlers. Carpenter and Brown are no longer on the roster.

Heading into 2021, the Falcons remain as desperate as ever to fix their offensive line. In Arthur Smith's first year, the franchise is counting on an entirely "homegrown" group up front to provide better protection for Matt Ryan and open holes in the running game for Mike Davis.

No team has drafted more offensive linemen on the first two days of the NFL Draft the last three years than the Atlanta Falcons. After drafting Lindstrom and McGary in the first round two years ago, the Falcons selected center Matt Hennessy in the third round last April and then guard Jalen Mayfield in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

With the selection of Mayfield, Atlanta's dedication to emphasize offensive linemen early in the draft has trickled into the next regime. Only the Miami Dolphins have also drafted four offensive linemen in the first three rounds of the last three NFL drafts.

This heavy drafting of offensive linemen in Atlanta comes not just after Carpenter and Brown departed but also veteran Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. He spent five years in Atlanta, and during his first season, Mack was a major part of Matt Ryan's MVP season and the franchise's trip to the Super Bowl. But with his 36th birthday coming in November, Mack isn't the same player.

So rather than all former first-round draft picks starting along the offensive line as the Falcons had a few years ago, they could be starting all former Falcons draft choices. 

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Lindstrom and McGary are still slotted to start next to each other at right guard and tackle, respectively, while Hennessy is projected to replace Mack at center. Jake Matthews is the veteran of the group at left tackle.

Left guard remains the biggest question mark among a line that has many critics to answer. If Mayfield earns that starting spot, then it will indeed be all former Falcons' draft picks in front of Ryan in 2021, including four taken since April 2019.

If Mayfield doesn't become the starter at left guard, the Falcons will likely be turning to a guy who wasn't drafted by anyone. Willie Wright will compete during the preseason with Mayfield for the starting role at left guard. 

Wright spent his rookie season on the Cleveland Browns practice squad in 2019 and then was on the Falcons practice squad last year. The Falcons elevated Wright to the active roster for one game last season, but he didn't play. 

Whether it's Mayfield or Wright, the Falcons really need their offensive line to be better in 2021. Atlanta was second-to-last in rushing yards per carry last season. Todd Gurley was part of the issue but so was the offensive line.

Although the offensive line was a little better in pass protection, the Falcons still allowed 41 sacks in 2020. That needs to improve as Ryan gets older.

With three of Atlanta's latest free agent offensive line acquisitions souring in recent years and little salary cap space, the Falcons are counting on "homegrown" talent finally fixing the offensive line this fall.