Despite the signing of free-agent center Alex Mack, the Atlanta Falcons are likely to still be on the lookout for additional help along their offensive line’s interior heading into the 2016 NFL Draft.
Mack’s addition solidified the center position, which was the biggest problem along the team’s five-man offensive line unit last year. The three-time Pro Bowler is expected to play multiple seasons with the Falcons despite being already 30 years old. The Falcons could think about drafting someone to groom behind him, but that’s a concern that the Falcons can delay for a future draft.
Instead, their primary concern up front is going to be the situation at either guard spots, which are yet to be solidified with starters Andy Levitre and Mike Person.
Person is the more vulnerable of the two at right guard, given that his play last year at center was anything but reassuring. But he should benefit from moving to guard, his more natural position. The Falcons are likely to try and bring in some competition for him this summer rather than outright handing him the starting position.
Right now, reserves James Stone, Ben Garland, Adam Replogle and Collin Rahrig seem unlikely to provide the necessary competition. All four players will compete for reserve roles and have some developmental upside, but not enough to suggest that the team sees them as potential starters in 2016 should they be forced to compete with Person.
They still have the option of re-signing free agent Chris Chester, who handled the right guard spot last year. Chester is expected to recover from offseason shoulder surgery by June. If the Falcons are unable to get a viable competitor for Person in the draft, then it increases the possibility that they give Chester a holler afterwards.
Ideally the Falcons will draft someone that offers much more youth and upside than the 33-year old Chester. That player could push Person right away for the starting spot at right guard. Even if the rookie loses that competition this summer, he can still contribute as a potential starter down the road.
That could come as early as 2017 at either guard spot. Left guard Andy Levitre’s contract is structured in a way that his retention beyond 2016 is tenuous at best. Any rookie drafted this year could be slotted to slide in as a starter next season. Getting a year to develop before being thrust in the starting lineup would be a smart move for the Falcons.
Thus any rookie added in this year’s draft could go a long way to solidifying the Falcons interior offensive line in the coming years. That might come in the form of drafting someone that can potentially start right away, or down the road. But either way, it makes sense for the Falcons to bolster the competition at guard with a 2016 draft pick.