The Falcons’ approach to free agency this offseason has been relatively straightforward, and yet it could go a long way in shoring up one of Atlanta’s greatest needs heading into 2019.
Averaging just more than 98 yards per game, the Falcons’ run game was among the least productive in the NFL in 2019. Following the season, coach Dan Quinn said the Falcons fell short in their ability to “run the ball with great efficiency.”
Atlanta has made a bunch of moves that should help it do just that.
The first two signings of free agency, left guard James Carpenter and right guard Jamon Brown, signaled that the Falcons were serious about addressing their offensive line, which surrendered 42 sacks in 2018, making Matt Ryan the eighth-most sacked quarterback.
In Carpenter and Brown, the Falcons have also added a lot of size up front. Carpenter is 6-foot-5 and weighs 321 pounds, while Brown is 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds. The Falcons’ starting offensive line for their season opener in 2018 had an average height of 6-foot-4 and an average weight of 306 pounds. Plugging in Carpenter and Brown at the guard spots and adding Ty Sambrailo as the projected starter at right guard would give the Falcons an average height of 6-foot-5 and an average weight of 319 pounds on the offensive line.
That’s not a massive leap by any means, but it’s a nice start. Those are just numbers, though, let’s take a closer look at the Falcons’ new guards and tight end Luke Stocker as well.
For somebody his size, Carpenter (No. 77) plays surprisingly well in space. He has the ability to get blocks at the secondary level fairly consistently, and he latches onto them and drives.
That’s Preston Brown, who led the NFL with 144 tackles in 2017, who Carpenter is spinning around on the play above. Carpenter’s athleticism should help him fit right in with the Falcons’ zone scheme, which requires a lot of blocking on the move.
The Jets ran some inside zone schemes while Carpenter was in New York, and he looks very comfortable driving a defensive lineman past the hole.
Carpenter appears to be a better run blocker than a pass blocker, though that isn’t an indictment of his skills in that area. He will occasionally allow a defender to get into his frame, but Carpenter generally does a good job of bringing a lineman to a standstill.
Entering his ninth season, Carpenter provides the Falcons with a reliable veteran option to replace Andy Levitre at left guard. Carpenter missed the last six games of the 2018 season after having shoulder surgery, but he had previously started 58-straight games and will presumably be ready for the season.
P.S. The Jets also ran behind Carpenter on a QB sneak, which should be mentioned.
Brown has a few similarities to Carpenter, but a lot more differences. A veteran of four NFL seasons, Brown doesn’t have the same level of experience as the Falcons’ other new guard. He has started 38 games in his career compared to Carpenter’s 97 starts.
But none of that is meant as a knock against Brown. Instead, it means he’s in an interesting spot in his career, which could benefit the Falcons. Offensive linemen often take some time to develop into a reliable player, let alone starter. Brown has gotten that experience and development from the Rams and Giants, and the Falcons may now reap the rewards if he puts it all together.
Unlike Carpenter, Brown (No. 78) appears to be stronger in pass protection than as a run blocker. Brown shows good balance and keeps his head up for new threats.
On the play below, Brown takes on Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who has 23.5 career sacks, and stymies his pass rush. Brown’s hand usage and his speed to mirror Richardson and drive him past the quarterback are particularly notable.
As a run blocker, Brown should also fit with what the Falcons do. While he doesn’t show much of Carpenter’s strength in the open field, Brown shows good technique and balance while on the move.
Against the Bears, Brown got across the face of Akiem Hicks and maintained leverage of his outside shoulder to allow Saquon Barkley time to read the play development.
It will be interesting to see how the Falcons handle right guard. Brown has some tools to offer Atlanta, but let’s not forget that Brandon Fusco was brought in last offseason to man right guard. He wasn’t playing poorly before suffering a season-ending injury. This could be a battle that takes place in camp.
The more film I watched on Stocker, the more intrigued I became. There’s a lot to like about what he could bring to this team.
Originally, his signing was viewed as the team finding a blocking tight end in the wake of Logan Paulsen hitting free agency. But then the Falcons re-signed Paulsen, which seemed a little redundant. Stocker can be much more than an in-line tight end, however. In fact, he was a pretty competent fullback for the Titans last year.
Stocker looks to be a fearless lead blocker, which was something the Falcons lacked at the point of attack last season. The type of versatility that Stocker offers isn’t necessarily something the Falcons have had recently.
His ability to attack various angles as a blocker should make Stocker an interesting chess piece for new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who coached Stocker while in Tampa Bay, and new tights end coach Mike Mularkey, who was with Stocker in Tennessee.
The addition of Brown, Carpenter and Stocker should give the Falcons more size up front and a more versatile, tenacious lead blocker in the backfield. There’s still a long way to go until we see how these moves play out, but the Falcons have been laser-focused in their early approach to free agency.