The Atlanta Falcons doubled down with their attempt to improve along the offensive line by trading back into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft and selecting former Washington tackle Kaleb McGary.
McGary joined guard Chris Lindstrom as the Falcons' two first-round picks, an indicator of just how seriously the team took their issues up front the past two seasons. The 6-foot-7, 317-pound McGary has plenty of size and athleticism at the position and should battle for a starting position this preseason.
Whether or not McGary snags a starting job heading into his rookie year will likely depend upon how smoothly his athletic traits translate to the NFL.
In the short term, McGary should be an asset as a run blocker. While at Washington, McGary's size and strength allowed him to blow up defenders, and his athleticism helped him secure blocks at the second level. The play below demonstrates McGary's prowess as a run blocker, as he pancakes a defender as part of a double team before sealing off a second-level defender.
The result of McGary's work is a clear path to the outside for running back Myles Gaskin. The Falcons, who utilize a variety of outside-zone runs, have need of players capable of sealing off outside running lanes.
Atlanta also deploys plenty of inside-zone runs, where down blocks that root defenders out of gaps will be necessary. This type of blocking is perhaps what McGary does best.
As a pass protector McGary has more athleticism than one might initially think. There are times when McGary's shoulders get turned towards the sidelines, indicating that he has was beaten on the play. But as Erik Turner explains in a deep-dive on McGary's technique for the website Cover 1, the Washington tackle may have been influenced heavily by the teachings of Howard Mudd.
Mudd, a former NFL offensive lineman and line coach, teaches an aggressive sort of pass protection rather than a mirror-and-catch style. That plays to McGary's strengths, which are good hand technique and a strong base, while minimizing his lack of elite lateral quickness. This style has helped McGary maintain his tenacious nature even while pass blocking.
There are still going to be some learning curves for McGary at the NFL level, just like there are for any player coming out of college. He will likely struggle against outside speed rushers in the NFL, but he has the toughness and desire to dominate his opponent that that Falcons were looking for in this draft.
He's a smart player who knows how to diagnose plays well while they are unfolding, which is a very important and underrated skill for a lineman. Most importantly, however, he is just a mean dude once the ball is snapped, which is something that Falcons fans should enjoy.
It remains to be seen if McGary can in fact beat out Ty Sambrailo and slide into a starting role this summer, and the Falcons could have two rookies starting next to each other if that occurs. But the more film one watches on McGary, the more it becomes clear what the Falcons see in him. He's tough, smart, and physically imposing. Those are three really strong qualities for an NFL offensive lineman to start with.