FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – The Atlanta Falcons were adamant about improving their offensive line in the first round of this year's NFL Draft, and they believe Chris Lindstrom and Kaleb McGary are two players who will do just that.
Lindstrom, a guard out of Boston College, was viewed by many as the top guard prospect in this year's class. It's clear the Falcons viewed him in that way as well. Part of the initial reaction to the Falcons' first pick of the draft was that it was a reach – guards don't often come off the board that early and there were some other offensive linemen who had been discussed much more frequently by draft analysts leading up to the event.
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Dan Quinn have much more information at their disposal than the typical fan or even draft expert, and they believe Lindstrom was getting some attention from a number of teams.
"Our feeling was we were really focused on making sure that we acquired Lindstrom and we weren't willing to give it up," Dimitroff said. "We had heard quite honestly, and I won't go into the details, but that there were three or four teams inside of 20 that were interested in him and was some pretty strong intel."
Lindstrom and McGary are just the latest additions to an offensive line that has already had several this offseason. Prior to the draft, the Falcons had signed three guards and one tackle in free agency. With the addition of Lindstrom and McGary, Atlanta now has six new faces on the offensive line, including four new guards.
The Falcons' offensive line was hit by injuries in 2018, including the loss of both starting guards Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco for the season. Now, the Falcons should have new starting candidates as well as better depth up front.
"We were not going to be hopefully in a position like we were last year with some of that situation happening," Dimitroff said. "No one wants to talk about injuries, but we were really focused on making sure that that depth was right."
Dimitroff and Quinn stopped short of saying Lindstrom and McGary would slot into starting roles, but they do anticipate them competing for the job this summer and making an impact on the team this fall.
An impact from the two rookies would be welcome. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 42 times last season, tied for eight-most in the NFL, and Atlanta averaged the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the league.
"We realized, and I have realized over the years, that we want to continue to protect and make sure that Matt is in a really good place and protect it properly," Dimitroff said. "And, quite honestly, it's not just pass protection, it's making sure that we're able to thrive in the run game, and that's important for us. We're not going to be the team we need to be if we're not moving people around and operating well on the O-line."
As for what Lindstrom and McGary bring to the table, individually, the word "aggressive" was used often. Both players were starters throughout their college careers, and they possess the necessary athleticism, Lindstrom especially, to fit into the Falcons' zone scheme.
"We ran wide zone, tight zone, and we ran gaps games and outside zone," Lindstrom said of his experience playing in a zone scheme at Boston College.
The Falcons have had camp battles along the offensive line in recent training camps, and Quinn said that will again be the case with the "best five" getting the nod heading into the season. What makes this year different, however, is that Atlanta will have two high draft picks in the mix.
There are some remaining needs for the Falcons to address with their remaining draft picks, which are, as of right now, all on Day 3. Atlanta could still add a defensive lineman or two, as well as some depth in the secondary or possibly another running back.
But it's plain to see now that the Falcons viewed their offensive line as the most pressing concern, and they weren't content on letting it remain that way.
"We were aggressive," Dimitroff said. "We were not going to be sitting on our hands we wanted to make sure that we were coming away with two big guys that were going to protect a major investment and part of our team that we feel can be obviously very good."