The 2014 NFL season is almost here, and it is time to preview this season’s edition of the Atlanta Falcons. In part five, we took an in-depth look at the team’s offensive line. If you missed it, be sure to check out our defensive line, linebacker, defensive back and special teams previews.
After taking a look at the defense and special teams (riveting), we are slowly moving toward the more high-profile positions on any NFL roster, but first, it is time to evaluate the offensive line. The “star power” isn’t evident here, but there is plenty to discuss and monitor as the season approaches in a hurry.
Joe Hawley is a favorite in this space, but he also happens to possess the potential to become an above-average center. He wasn’t a full-time starter until midway through the 2013 season, but Hawley is already a good run-blocker because of his nastiness and mobility. In pass protection, the 300-pounder certainly isn’t a finished product, but he has made noticeable strides since entering the league out of UNLV, and it will be interesting to see if he can improve in situations where he has as significant size disadvantage.
There is a reason that Hawley was inserted into the lineup as a full-time starter last season, and that is because Peter Konz was dreadful. The former Wisconsin star had an impressive pedigree as he entered the league, but he has been a disaster in run-blocking (not ideal for a center, obviously) and while his mobility is a plus in protecting Matt Ryan, he doesn’t have the strength to hold up against beefy interior pass rushers.
The Falcons made a much needed “splash” with the signing of free agent guard Jon Asamoah in the off-season, and he projects as the best offensive lineman on the roster for 2014. At 6-foot-4 and 305 pounds, he is probably better in pass protection than he is at dominating at the point of attack, but he isn’t below-average in either category, and that is a welcome addition to anchor this offensive line.
During the treacherous 2013 season, Justin Blalock was (easily) the best player on Atlanta’s offensive line, but he’s probably better suited for a “supporting” role at this point in his career. He can be quite mobile in the running game, allowing him to get down field to widen holes, and in pass protection, he consistently grades out as an above-average player for an interior lineman. Blalock used to garner buzz as a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, and perhaps he can return to that form with some real talent around him.
Gunn is probably the lineman listed here with the greatest probability of getting cut, but he possesses a nasty streak that is coveted among offensive lineman. If the Falcons elect to bring on another veteran tackle, that would be a defensible move, but if given the choice between Gunn and keeping tackle Terren Jones, Gunn is the more valuable asset.
In the wake of the season-ending injury to incumbent left tackle Sam Baker, the Falcons are certainly not as deep as the tackle spot as initially projected. However, the decision to move first round pick Jake Matthews was certainly a wise one, and he profiles as the type of player who could be above-average at that spot from day one. It is undeniably true that Matthews is better suited for the right tackle spot at this moment, but Thomas Dimitroff doesn’t select him with a top ten pick if that is his ceiling, and Matthews is the complete package as a tackle prospect.
Holmes has prototypical NFL size at 6-foot-6 and more than 330 pounds, but he was well below-average as a “starter” last season, and Falcons fans are justifiably terrified about the prospect of many snaps that includes Holmes. Still, he does possess significant upside, and with the move to the right side, he should be more effective in pass protection while being in better position to use his massive size in run blocking.
The 25-year-old Carimi was a first round pick of the Chicago Bears, but much like Konz, the former Wisconsin star has not lived up to the hype. There have been flashes of productivity, but injury concerns continue to follow Carimi around wherever he goes, and that is the reason that he is currently behind Holmes on the depth chart. Ideally, he would be the starter at right tackle during week one, and if he’s healthy, it is likely a mistake to hitch the wagon to Holmes for the short term.
(Note: The Falcons signed free agent tackle Pat McQuistan when they placed Sam Baker on IR, but McQuistan doesn’t appear to have the inside track on a roster spot.)
Overall, this group should be significantly better in 2014. The era that produced Peter Konz as a starting guard and Jeremy Trueblood as a legitimate contributor has vanished, and the Falcons suddenly have a pair of above-average guards to go along with a potential star at the left tackle spot. Atlanta’s offensive line certainly isn’t a finished product that operates without worry, but the improvement will be stark and that should allow Matt Ryan to resume his role in presiding over a top-flight offense.
Tags: Atlanta Falcons