Given the improved play from Atlanta Falcons offensive tackles Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder over the second half of the 2014 season, the team’s needs at the position heading into the 2015 NFL Draft likely will focus on adding more depth.
As things sit today, Sam Baker, Lamar Holmes and Reid Fragel are the backups at the spot. But Baker’s hold on a roster spot is tenuous and he also might be moved inside to guard this year. Holmes is recovering from a foot injury and given his 333-pound frame, might not be the best fit for the team’s new zone-blocking scheme that prefers smaller blockers that are lighter on their feet. Fragel offers the athleticism the team might want with the shift in scheme, but he lacks on experience. Coupled with the fact that Matthews is also coming off a foot injury, the dreaded Lisfranc variety, the need for depth becomes more important.
If the Falcons do dip into the draft to get a reserve blocker at tackle, it’ll almost certainly come on the third day of the draft when the last few rounds are selected. With the shift in scheme, the Falcons will likely prioritize athleticism and mobility up front as opposed to the size and power that they have coveted in some recent drafts.
The Falcons have looked at a few prospects at tackle, but most are expected to come off the board early. Tackle might not be seen as a huge priority given other needs and the fact that the team does have Baker and Holmes on the roster. But it never hurts to bolster depth along the offensive line, especially in the later rounds where that position group tends to be more successful than others in terms of finding diamonds in the rough.
It also wouldn’t be a surprise if the Falcons targeted a late-round blocker that is or was a convert from the defensive line. The Seattle Seahawks, while Dan Quinn was there, twice drafted collegiate defensive tackles and turned them into offensive guards. J.R. Sweezy has since developed into a competent starting right guard and the other convert, Jared Smith, is currently competing for a reserve roster spot at guard with the Falcons.
Usually players on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage are the superior athletes. Given the zone-blocking scheme’s stress on movement, adding those types of athletes can be at a premium. Coupled with the hope that the Falcons are now secure as far as their starting tackles go, taking a flyer on a project that can be given the necessary time to develop on the bench makes a little more sense.
The Falcons could always go into camp with their current group and see how the competition shapes out. There’s rarely a shortage of experienced veterans tackles that are available to be picked up off the street if the need arises especially if all the Falcons are looking for is depth. But if a player they like is available late in the draft, the team shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a young, versatile athlete that is capable of playing either side of the line.