The Falcons used their first-round draft pick Thursday night, No. 14 overall, to select Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom. They acquired the No. 31 pick in a trade with the Rams and used it to select Washington offensive tackle Kaleb McGary.
I don’t know if Lindstrom and McGary will be good NFL players. Even team employees who are paid to get draft picks right get them wrong a lot. It’s not easy to figure which good college players will make good pros.
However, I do know that the expectation is for Lindstrom and McGary to be effective starters for the Falcons from Day 1. The offensive line was the weak link for the Falcons during their lost season in 2018, and now they’ll depend on two rookies to make it much better.
That might seem unrealistic because, as mentioned, the draft is hard to get right. Also, it’s difficult for rookies to make an immediate impact at the most physically demanding position. It’s a high bar for standout college linemen to make the leap to immediate NFL starters.
I didn’t set that bar, though. Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff did it before they even drafted Lindstrom and McGary.
A week ago, the co-team builders said this draft is deep in good linemen. They said several offensive line prospects will be ready to help their teams win now. Then Quinn and Dimitroff got two of them in the first round.
Afterwards, they emerged from their draft room and tried to pump the brakes on the expectation that Lindstrom and McGary will start as rookies.
“Certainly, we think these guys are coming in capable of producing that but let’s not put the cart before the horse,” Quinn said. “We are going to let this thing play out.”
I get why Quinn said it. Make the rookies earn their spots. No need to apply extra pressure now, for either the players or the co-team builders.
Lets’ be real, though: Lindstrom and McGary need to be starters this season. Dimitroff and Quinn declared that fixing the offensive line is a priority, said this draft has plenty of players who can do it and then picked two linemen in the first round.
After all that, they can’t end up with their two first-round draft picks on the bench. If that happens, it would mean the co-team builders picked the wrong linemen in a draft they said had lots of them who are ready to play now.
And it’s not just that Quinn and Dimitroff would look bad for whiffing on two first-round picks. It’s also that the Falcons would be in trouble if both Lindstrom and McGary aren’t ready to start. Even one of them on the bench could be problematic.
If McGary is on the bench, Ty Sambrailo would be the starting right tackle. With the exception of a handful of games, he hasn’t shown he can do it effectively. The Falcons just signed Sambrailo to a new deal but it was modest.
If Lindstrom is a reserve, then the starting guards are free-agent acquisitions Jamon Brown and James Carpenter. Their average salaries rank 20th and 29th, respectively, among NFL guards.
The Falcons need Lindstrom and McGary to crack the starting lineup. If they don’t, the Falcons could have the same issues up front as they did in 2018. Things got so bad that the Falcons neither could protect quarterback Matt Ryan nor execute their favored outside zone runs.
Ideally, the Falcons will be better at both with Lindstrom and McGary in the starting lineup. Their athletic profile fits what the Falcons want to do. Quinn said they’ll also help the Falcons be a “rugged, aggressive” team.
Credit the Falcons for making these bold moves. They took Lindstrom higher in the draft than all but three guards over the past 10 years. They sacrificed two picks in this draft, Nos. 45 and 79, for the chance to select McGary (the Falcons also got a sixth-round pick from the Rams in the deal).
The Falcons targeted the players they wanted at positions they needed. Now they need their new rookie linemen to be good enough to start right away. That’s the expectation Quinn and Dimitroff set before the draft, and it’s what Lindstrom and McGary have to live up to.
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