Deciding which respective line, offensive or defensive, has been worse the last 6 years is an impossible argument. The pass rush has been miserable and the offensive line has been wretched. The pass rush has been nonexistent for some time and it’s almost been accepted by most fans. The offensive line has had it’s ups and downs, but they’ve been good enough, a few times at least, to get the Falcons in the playoffs and generally good enough to be one of the better teams in the NFC. Until last year of course. The trainwreck that was the Falcons offensive line went from bad to even worse and it’s really lucky that Matt Ryan wasn’t injured last year.
They went out and signed Jon Asamoah, arguably the best guard on the market, to fill the RG spot once and for all. However, there’s still plenty of work to be done. They have Justin Blalock locking down left guard, turning 31 this year, and are taking the risky proposition of starting either Joe Hawley or Peter Konz at center. They of course have the block of high performance Sam Baker locked into to a huge contract at left tackle and a plethora of “hopefuls” competing for right tackle including Lamar Holmes, Ryan Schraeder, Mike Johnson, and Gabe Carimi. To say the least, the Falcons could use to upgrade the offensive line in several areas along the OL. A look at the offensive line prospects:
This seems to be the area where the Falcons plan to upgrade. With the re-signing of Hawley at center and the signing of Asamoah at right guard, the Falcons won’t likely be looking at either guards or centers early in the draft. That leaves offensive tackle. Will they bite the bullet and actually take one of the elite OT’s or will they roll the dice and wait until later? In theory, they could assume one of the “hopefuls” will work out with the magic of a new attitude and new OL coach.
Greg Robinson – Auburn
6’5 – 332 lbs – 35’ Arms – 10’ Hands – 4.92 Forty – 32 Bench
26 Career Starts – Projected: Top 10 Pick
Robinson and Matthews are the two elite tackle in the draft and most experts fully expect that one or even both could be gone in the first 5-7 picks. Robinson is definitely the more athletically gifted of the two and one of the best overall athletic specimens in the entire draft. He started two years at Auburn and helped lead the Tigers to an SEC Title and National Championship berth. He’s a mammoth OT and his ceiling seemingly has no limit. The only slight risk concerning Robinson is him coming from a run-heavy Auburn offense that rarely asked him to pass block. And when he did, he did so for an extremely mobile QB (Nick Marshall). Robinson would provide an immediate upgrade to a Falcons OL in severe need of talent, regardless of any issues of rawness.
Jake Matthews – Texas A&M
6’5 – 308 lbs – 33 ⅜’ Arms – 9 ⅞’ Hands – 5:07 Forty – 24 Bench
33 Career Starts – Projected: Top 10 Pick
Matthews may not have the pure physical ability of Robinson and his ceiling may be nowhere close to that of the former Auburn Tiger’s. But Matthews may be the safest and surest player in the entire NFL draft. He has everything that teams look for in franchise tackles: tough, technically sound, and doesn’t have many weaknesses in his overall game. Not only that, but he belongs to NFL royalty: son of Hall of Fame OL Bruce Matthews, nephew to Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews Jr. and cousin of perennial stud and former defensive player of the year Clay Matthews III. He played 3 seasons at right tackle earning First Team All-SEC and First Team All-American as a junior before moving over to left tackle, where he earned First Team All-SEC and Consensus All-American as a senior. Robinson may be the flashy and athletic choice, but the Falcons could lock in a legitimate franchise LT if Matthews fell to them at #6. Finally, remember the last time Dimitroff and the Falcons passed over a Matthews when they had the chance? (2009)
Taylor Lewan – Michigan
6’7 – 309 lbs – 33 ⅞’ Arms – 9 ¼’ Hands – 4.87 Forty – 29 Bench
48 Career Starts – Projected: Top 10 Pick
While generally not considered even with the top 2, he’s not far behind either Robinson or Matthews. Unlike the top two OT’s, he’s actually started more games than either and they have all been at left tackle. He possesses the “mean streak” that the Falcons want and desperately need on their offensive line. While not as technically sound or sure as Matthews, he’s been compared to another Michigan OL great in Jake Long. Some draft sites and experts even have him right along Robinson and Matthews in a Top 3 setting, but no one puts him far below them. Even though the Falcons could take Lewan @ #6, it’s hard to think that both Matthews and Robinson will both be gone and someone else they prize (Clowney, Mack) won’t drop. They could target Lewan in a possible trade back scenario, but two issues cloud the picture. First of all, when has Dimitroff ever traded BACK in the first round? And #2, they won’t be able to trade back very far at all and still get Lewan.
Zack Martin – Notre Dame
6’4 – 308 lbs – 32’ ⅞ Arms – 9’ ½ Hands – 5.17 Forty – 29 Bench
50 Career Starts – Projected: Top 15 Pick
Tons of draft experts and websites kept trying to push Martin inside to guard, but the former Notre Dame product evidently didn’t get the memo. After completing an astounding 50 starts for the Irish, Martin has had a great pre-draft journey that has made believers out of most draftniks. He’s a touch shorter than a few of the other tackle prospects ahead of him, but he’s shown to be up to the challenge every step of the way. Mike Mayock said that he’d be an immediate All-Pro guard if moved inside, but that he’ll be just fine at tackle as well. After the Top 3 tackles, Martin is firm as the 4th best OT prospect and is almost a lock to go in the first round, sooner rather than later. The former Irish product could be a realistic option for the Falcons if they elect to trade back and would bring the versatility that Smith craves. He could be legitimate option in a trade back scenario, but see above on Dimitroff.
Cyrus Kouandijo – Alabama
6’7 – 332 lbs – 35’ ⅝ Arms – 11’¼ Hands – 5.59 Forty – 21 Bench
27 Career Starts – Projected: Late 1st – Early 2nd Round
If Martin has had a great runup to the draft, than Kouandijo has had the opposite. The former Crimson Tide BCS Champ has had a very poor run in the months leading up to the draft. A junior that started for the Alabama’s Nick Saban amid their run to the BCS Championship title as a sophomore, Kouandijo manned the left side well for his junior season as well. They came a few seconds from a chance at their 3rd consecutive championship and then the downslide happened. He had an unusually terrible bowl game in a loss to Oklahoma and the questions began when he went to the NFL Scouting Combine. Reports leaked that he failed several teams medicals with issues regarding his knees. He had a decent combine, but medical concerns have likely dropped him close to out of the first round. Once thought of as a top 10 lock, he now will be lucky to be taken before the second round. A team may be getting a great value or an injury risk. This could be a very real possibility if the Falcons elect to take a pass rusher in the first round and come back in the second for an offensive tackle.
Morgan Moses – Virginia
6’6 – 314 lbs – 35’ ⅜ Arms – 9’⅞ Hands – 5.35 Forty – Bench: N/A
43 Career Starts – Projected: 2nd Round
Very productive starter out of Virginia that made a ton of starts and is a very good pass protector. Moses represents the beginning of the next “tier” after Martin and Kounadijo likely go before. Moses has the ideal size and frame to be a left tackle at the next level. He’s also very good on his feet for a player his size. The main issue for Moses is his skill in run-blocking and whether he can develop the necessary tools to become a well-rounded OT at the next level. Would likely be an immediate upgrade on what the Falcons currently have at RT. One concern is that he inexplicably didn’t participate in the bench at the combine, which definitely should raise some eyebrows.
Antonio Richardson – Tennessee
6’6 – 336 lbs – 35’ Arms – 10’¼ Hands – 5.3 Forty – 36 Bench
24 Career Starts – Projected: 2nd Round
The former Tennessee Vol might be one of the most physically impressive athletes in the entire draft and had one of the best performances at the combine. He had the highest reps for bench at 36, higher than Robinson, and the short-arm-equals-higher-reps argument doesn’t fly either. He also ran a 5.3 forty and for someone his size, that’s really impressive. He even held “All-World” DE Jadaveon Clowney in check in 2012, but struggled a bit more in his 2013 matchup. He has all the physical tools to be great at the next level, but has a lot of room for growth in this technical department. If he’s still really raw, can the Falcons afford another project, a la Lamar Holmes?
Jack Mewhort – Ohio State
6’6 – 309 lbs – 34’ Arms – 9’¾ Hands – 5.37 Forty – 28 Bench
39 Career Starts – Projected: 2nd Round
An extremely versatile OL coming out of Ohio State, Mewhort has played at almost every position on the line. A linemen in the blue-collar vein that gets the job done, but lacks the elite athleticism of the higher tackles and many are projecting him more as a right tackle than a left tackle. He could be and very likely will be a great RT candidate, but the Falcons need someone who could eventually play left tackle for the oft-injured and highly ineffective Sam Baker, so Mewhort might not be the ideal pick for the Falcons.
Joel Bitonio – Nevada
6’4 – 302 lbs – 33’⅞ Arms – 9’⅝ Hands – 4.97 Forty – 22 Bench
42 Career Starts – Projected: 3rd – 4th Rounds
Very high motor left tackle from Nevada that made all of his starts at left tackle. Did very well against top-notch talent including holding his own vs. LB Anthony Barr of UCLA. He lacks the ideal size and frame for a prototypical left tackle and many draft sites feel a move to guard would suit him much better. Eerily similar size to one Sam Baker (6’5, 301 lbs).
Billy Turner – North Dakota State
6’5 – 315 lbs – 34’ Arms – 10’ Hands – 5.16 Forty – 25 Bench
56 Career Starts – Projected: 2nd – 4th Rounds
The small school standout has more starts than any other tackle prospect in the draft, an astounding 56. Turner has a nasty demeanor that translates well to the next level. Showed good strength and overall ability at tackle. Most draft experts are projecting a move inside and there’s always concern about level of competition.
Jawuan James – Tennessee
6’6 – 311 lbs – 35’ Arms – 9’⅞ Hands – 5.34 Forty – 22 Bench
37 Career Starts – Projected: 3rd – 4th Rounds
James may be overshadowed a touch by his teammate, but he made 37 starts in the SEC at right tackle. He’s not as athletically gifted as Richardson, but has more sound fundamentals. He could projecte well to the next level, but the Falcons aren’t really in the market for a pure right tackle such as James.
Cameron Fleming – Stanford
6’5 – 323 lbs – 34’ Arms – 9’⅞ Hands – 5.28 Forty – 26 Bench
38 Career Starts – Projected: 4th Round
Like Mewhort from Ohio State, Fleming has made 38 starts at a big school in a tough conference. All of those, however, have been at right tackle. Has pretty good size and frame, but lacks the top-line agility of other tackles that could move to left tackle and some feel he may even be better suited to a move inside to guard.
Seantrel Henderson – Miami
6’7 – 331 lbs – 34’⅝ Arms – 10’½ Hands – 5.04 Forty – Bench – N/A
26 Career Starts – Projected: 4th – 6th Rounds
The former Hurricane is one of the most physically imposing of the entire tackle group. He has all the tools to be good at the next level, but he’s been mostly a disappointment at Miami and struggled to consistently find a groove as a starter. Maybe he’s gotten it together just in time, but many project him exclusively to right tackle at the next level and appears to be very much a project.
James Hurst – North Carolina
6’5 – 296 lbs – 33’¾ Arms – 10’⅛ Hands – Injured in Bowl Game
49 Career Starts – Projected: 4th – 5th Rounds
Hurst started off the year holding the biggest player in college football, Clowney, completely in check and had finished his 4th year starting at left tackle at UNC, completing 49 starts and setting a school record. Like Mewhort, he doesn’t possess the athletic traits of the higher tackles, but is a blue-collar OT that could get some looks at the next level. Had terrible timing in breaking his leg in the bowl game, but still should get drafted fairly high.
Charles Leno – Boise State; Matt Patchan – Boston College; Michael Schofield – Michigan; Justin Britt – Missouri
It’s hard to believe the Falcons looking at guard early in the draft for several reasons. Chief among them is that with the signing of Asamoah, the Falcons seem pretty set at guard with Justin Blalock on the other side. The second reason is that there are so many other needs before guard, including offensive tackle, pass rusher, free safety, tight end, and other positions including running back.
Cyril Richardson – Baylor
6’5 – 329 lbs – 34’⅝ Arms – 9’½ Hands – 5.36 Forty – 25 Bench
41 Career Starts – Projected: 3-4th rounds
If the draft was held in February, Richardson would have been at the very top of the OG heap and maybe taken in the 2nd round. Unfortunately, Richardson’s stock took a major dive after a very poor Senior Bowl week and game and an average combine experience. He still has talent, but is a work in progress in pass protection. If he slides far enough, it would be a great player to groom for Blalock’s eventual replacement.
Brandon Thomas – Miami
6’3 – 317 lbs – 34’⅝ Arms – 9’½ Hands – 5.42 Forty – 25 Bench
41 Career Starts – Projected: 3-4th Rounds
Thomas actually started at left tackle for 2 seasons and earned All-ACC honors at that spot. Most draft experts agree that a move inside to guard would be best for him. He may not last very long and could be an exceptional candidate at guard.
Anthony Steen – Alabama
6’3 – 314 lbs – 30’½ Arms – 9’⅛ Hands – Shoulder Surgery after Season
35 Career Starts – Projected: 4 – 5th Rounds
Steen has been on an offensive line with Chance Warmack, DJ Fluker, Cyrus Kounadijo, and Barrett Jones and has been the forgotten man along that front. He also had shoulder surgery after the season was over, but he’s been one of the most solid guards in college football. This would be a great option if the Falcons could snag him later in the draft. Maybe this guard from Alabama will work out better than the last (Mike Johnson).
Jon Halapio – Florida
6’3 – 323 lbs – 33’⅝ Arms – 10’¼ Hands – 5.34 Forty – Bench: N/A
43 Career Starts – Projected: 4th – 5th Rounds
Normally, starting 43 times for the University of Florida would be a good thing, but not so much lately. Definitely raw and would need some work, but possibly a prospect to groom for the future.
Trai Turner – LSU
6’3’ – 310 lbs – 34’ Arms – 9’½ Hands – 4.93 Forty – 25 Bench
20 Career Starts – Projected: 5th Round
Turner may be a diamond in the rough, but he’s got a long way to go after only starting one full season at LSU. He only played two years, but had a good year at guard in his first year as a starter.
Chris Watt – Notre Dame; Russell Bodine – UNC; Kadeem Edwards – Tennessee State; John Urschel – Penn State; Ryan Groy Wisconsin; Spencer Long – Nebraska
It’s hard to imagine the Falcons taking a center in the draft, and may not even look at centers, except for undrafted free agents after having Peter Konz and re-signing Joe Hawley to compete at center.
Bryan Stork – Florida State; Tyler Larsen – Utah State; Cory Linsley – Ohio State; Gabe Ikard – Oklahoma