FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – With training camp rapidly approaching, now is the perfect opportunity to analyze the Falcons' 2017 rookie class and what they bring to the team. Our third installment in this series will go in-depth on the Falcons' only offensive line draft pick, Sean Harlow.
Chris Chester's retirement this offseason created one of the few holes on the team's roster. Many believed Atlanta would seek to upgrade the right guard position even before Chester's announcement, and that only served to solidify the need.
The Falcons waited until the fourth round to address the position, but found a versatile player in Harlow who started 37 games in his four-year career at Oregon State. Harlow's father, Pat, was a former first-round pick as an offensive tackle and spent eight seasons in the NFL.
So what exactly is Atlanta getting in Harlow? Let's find out.
Oregon State (four seasons):
- 1,986 snaps
- 20 penalties
- 14 sacks allowed
Harlow was forced into action early in his college career. Injuries allowed him to start the final nine games of his true freshman season at right tackle. He was one of just two players to start every game on the offensive line as a sophomore, but he had his share of struggles. According to Pro Football Focus, Harlow allowed nine sacks and was called for 11 penalties in 2014. Those numbers greatly improved during his career, and he surrendered just one sack as a senior.
The aspect of Harlow's game that truly stands out is his run blocking. PFF determined that Harlow had success on 96.8 percent of his snaps in run blocking, which was the best mark among all offensive linemen in this draft class. To get a player who is tops in any category in the fourth round is a big deal. Harlow is also a versatile lineman who offers swing potential between guard and center.
At 6-foot-4 and 303 pounds, Harlow isn't among the biggest offensive linemen in the class but he moves well. Despite a change at offensive coordinator, the Falcons should still rely on a zone-blocking scheme in the run game, which requires mobile linemen. Harlow ran the 40-yard dash in 5.15 seconds, placing him in the 81st percentile among linemen in this class, according to Mock Draftable.
The play below is a great representation of the mobility and toughness that Harlow (No. 77) offers the Falcons. Lining up at left tackle, Harlow pulls and becomes the lead blocker on the play. He makes a good leverage block on the move, but what really stands out is that he follows that up by looking for someone else to block downfield and knocks a defender off his feet 10 yards past his initial block.
While Harlow's run blocking is clearly a strength, he isn't as adept in pass protection. Per his NFL.com draft profile, he was "bull rushed the entire game by much smaller edge rushers." He will benefit from having players on either side of him to help him out, but Harlow will also face bigger defensive linemen on the interior. Harlow also suffered a broken leg as a junior, and he appeared a step slower when he returned the following year. Now almost two years removed from that injury, it will be important to monitor if he has fully recovered his mobility.
What to watch for in camp
One of the few true position battles for Atlanta this year is at right guard. Wes Schweitzer and Ben Garland are seen as the primary contenders at the position, but Harlow should factor into the mix as well. If his run blocking is truly as good as it was in college, he could make things interesting. At the very least, the rookie should provide nice swing depth at center and guard while gaining experience this fall.
"He's a guy who has a lot of experience," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said of Harlow after the draft. "His blood lines are big; his father was Pat Harlow. (He's) been around football all his life; his dad played in the NFL. He has the ability to play center. He has the ability to play guard. He's being drafted as a guard-slash-center. The versatility is there, he's a smart guy and a tough guy."