If you're not paying attention to the Falcons offensive line this preseason you're going to be missing out. There's competition galore as veterans and younger plays compete for the five spots available.
Could the Falcons offensive line look the exact same in 2022 as it did in 2021? Sure. They are returning all five starters, after all. However, the path to get to that point will be one to pay attention to as training camp gets underway.
Until then, let's breakdown this position.
Who's in the room: Drew Dalman, Colby Gossett, Jonotthan Harrison, Matt Hennessy, Germain Ifedi, Rick Leonard, Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews, Jalen Mayfield, Kaleb McGary, Ryan Neuzil, Justin Shaffer, Tyler Vrabel, Leroy Watson, Elijah Wilkinson
53-man projection: Drew Dalman, Matt Hennessy, Germain Ifedi, Chris Lindstrom, Jake Matthews, Jalen Mayfield, Kaleb McGary, Justin Shaffer, Elijah Wilkinson
Projected starters: RT Kaleb McGary | RG Chris Lindstrom | C Matt Hennessy | LG Jalen Mayfield | LT Jake Matthews (yes, the exact same group as last year, but let me explain below)
Where the position was: In each of the last four seasons, Matt Ryan was sacked over 40 times. Last year, that number was an even 40, which landed the Falcons in the middle of the league in sacks allowed. Of those 40, nine were attributed to Kaleb McGary and 11 were given to Jalen Mayfield (per PFF). Mayfield underwent a "baptism by fire" in 2021, as he became the starting left guard after Josh Andrews was injured during training camp.
Meanwhile, Chris Lindstrom didn't allow a single sack in 2021. He was the only guard in the league to play in every game and not give up a sack. According to PFF, Matt Hennessy graded out to have the best run blocking score of the five starters, while Jake Matthews had the best pass blocking grade.
When running the ball, the Falcons were not nearly as consistent or successful in doing so as other teams in the league were in 2021. Only the Texans had a lower rushing yards per game average than Atlanta.
Where the position is: The Falcons extended Matthews this offseason as well as picking up Lindstrom's fifth-year option. They did not do the same for McGary. Along with drafting Justin Shaffer in the later rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, the Falcons picked up Germain Ifedi and Elijah Wilkinson in free agency. Because of all of these moves, the offensive line should be the most competitive position on the field come the start of training camp. Outside of Matthews and Lindstrom, there are spots to be contested across the offensive line. Drew Dalman and Hennessy will push each other at center, while McGary and Mayfield will have to beat out the veteran free agents to earn their starting spots back. Then, there's having Marcus Mariota under center in 2022, and not Ryan. Don't forget this change at quarterback affects the offensive line, too.
And that's where this position stands: With competition as the anchor of the group. As noted above, the 2022 offensive line could look exactly like it did in 2021, but if that's the case, those five have to earn their spots back through camp.
Where the position is going: Matthews is married to Atlanta until the 2027 offseason, while Lindstrom will be sticking around until at least 2024. Hennessy, Mayfield, Dalman and Shaffer are all on the early portions of their rookie contracts. There's a lot of youth across this offensive line right now, but that won't always be the case in Atlanta. The Falcons will plug in where they need to in the years to come, but the expectation could be that Matthews and Lindstrom continue to be the centerfold pieces of the group, especially if the Falcons can sign Lindstrom after his fifth year. If not, they'll be looking for his replacement in the final years of Matthews' contract. If that happens, it'll change the way this group operates as a whole since Lindstrom's presence is so important to the unit.
The Falcons offensive success begins and ends at the line of scrimmage. There are areas for obvious improvement across the Falcons offensive line. Being able to see said improvement over the course of the next two years will be vitally important to gauge the overall health of the offense.