The second-year guard had spent the entire year up until now on injured reserve.
Once upon a time, Jalen Mayfield seemed like the likely starter at left guard for the Falcons. Instead, Elijah Wilkinson ran away with the job, Mayfield dealt with an injury and fell behind, and then he hit injured reserve heading into the season. Through 10 weeks, we hadn’t seen or heard anything about how his recovery was going.
Now that the situation at left guard has gotten dire, Mayfield appears to be on the cusp of returning, which is excellent timing for him and the team. Wilkinson is also on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to return until after the Week 12 matchup against the Commanders, and his replacement Matt Hennessy is on the shelf until at least after the Week 14 bye. That leaves Colby Gossett, who scuffled against the Panthers, and a pair of interesting but unproven options in either Ryan Neuzil or Justin Shaffer.
Unless, of course, Mayfield returns. As The Athletic’s Josh Kendall notes, the team opened up his practice window to come off of injured reserve, and he was out there practicing today. That could set him up to draw his first start of the 2022 season against the Bears.
Jalen Mayfield, last year’s starter at LG, could return from the IR this week, which would help considering the situation at left guard.
— Josh Kendall (@JoshTheAthletic) November 16, 2022
I’ve been eager to see what kind of strides Mayfield might have made over last year, when he was comfortably one of the worst guards in the NFL. The fact that he couldn’t beat out Wilkinson for the job was not an excellent sign for his immediate future, but it’s clear he’s been troubled by back issues for a while now, which may have been a factor there. The team clearly likes Mayfield, stuck with him through a 16 game stint as a starter in 2022, and would like to see him improve enough to seize the job over the long haul, but he hasn’t had a chance to show much of anything since the summer. That could change right now.
The Falcons really need Mayfield to step in and do well, because lately the line has been struggling to protect Marcus Mariota and even block effectively on the ground, something we could largely take for granted earlier in the year. If he can’t, they’ll likely grit their teeth and turn back to Gossett until Wilkinson is ready to go, but if he’s healthy enough to play I fully expect him to get a full game against a solid-but-not-great Chicago front.
This will be a pivotal game for Mayfield if he gets out there, given that he’d like to prove that his rough rookie season isn’t going to define him as a player. For the Falcons, who can’t afford another loss if they want to keep up with the Buccaneers in the NFC South, a great performance would be very welcome.