Last year’s draft pick takes over the starting job after a summer-long competition.
Atlanta’s summer-long battle for the center job is apparently over. The team released its depth chart for the Week 1 tilt against the Saints today, and Drew Dalman is listed as the starter.
The announcement comes after Dalman and Matt Hennessy rotated opportunities with the starters for months, and center proved to be the longest-lasting position battle of them all. Whether Dalman proves to be a high-end option or not, the team likely feels fortunate to have a full-time starter in 2021 as a reserve on this offensive line, especially with the depth looking shakier elsewhere.
This move didn’t necessarily feel inevitable when Dalman was drafted in the fourth round last year, but as Adnan Ikic wrote at the time, it seemed likely the team made the selection hoping he would be a long-term starter. Chances are Arthur Smith will tell us more in the coming days about why the coaching staff chose Dalman, but clearly this regime liked what he brings to the table because they found a way to get him playing time last year and had him battling on even ground with Hennessy all summer. A quality athlete and technician, Dalman will now hope to make the job his for a long time.
The competition was a striking contrast to last year, when Hennessy ran away with the job over the summer. An up-and-down season in his first year as a full-time starter saw Hennessy ceding snaps at times to Dalman, who rotated in for a while until the team abandoned the experiment toward the end of the season. That rotation continued into the end of August, with the Falcons sitting both centers and letting recent center convert Ryan Neuzil man the pivot for the final preseason game.
The hope is that Atlanta has now landed on its long-term solution at the center position, because having a young starter capable of holding down the fort over the long haul will let this team focus its draft capital and free agent dollars on other trouble spots on the roster, potentially including the offensive line. The Falcons now will trot out a starting line that features Dalman, Jake Matthews, Elijah Wilkinson, Chris Lindstrom, and Kaleb McGary.
Congratulations to Dalman for winning the job!