Dalton Risner Russell Wilson Atlanta Falcons free agent target - Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
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ESPN’s Best Free Agent Fit for Atlanta Falcons?

The Atlanta Falcons have been busy in the opening-two weeks of NFL Free Agency, but they’ve been particularly quiet with their vacant-left guard position.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell took particular notice of this possible hole on the offensive line, and he suggested the Falcons fill it with a free agent from the Denver Broncos.

“I’m surprised there wasn’t more of a market for Risner, who has been a consistently effective guard since being drafted in the second round in 2019. Risner ranked 10th in run block win rate last season, and although he gave up too many sacks, he has committed just one holding penalty in four seasons.” — Bill Barnwell, ESPN+

One of the reasons Barnwell is surprised there hasn’t been more of a market for Risner is because the data he’s relying on is subjective.

Pro Football Focus disagrees with ESPN in this case, and Risner got a woeful 53.4 run-blocking grade from PFF. That placed him 55th in the NFL among guards who had enough snaps to be eligible according to PFF.

Many of you know I do a Broncos Podcast as well as Falcons work, and I watched every Broncos game the last two seasons. Risner’s biggest problem has been being over powered at the point of attack.

Barnwell continues on why Risner would be a great fit for the Falcons.

Possible deal: Three years, $21 million with the Atlanta Falcons. If coach Arthur Smith is going to move forward with Desmond Ridder at quarterback and run the football, Risner would be a major upgrade on what the team has put out at left guard over the past couple of seasons.

Jalen Mayfield wasn’t impressive in 2021 and then missed all of 2022 with a back injury, while Elijah WilkinsonMatt HennessyColby Gossett and Chuma Edoga each started games at left guard. Edoga, Gossett and Wilkinson are all free agents, and Risner would be a physical force for a team that wants to overpower defenses with its rushing attack. — Bill Barnwell, ESPN+

No, No and No.

Well almost.

Mayfield was drafted in 2021 as a right tackle with just 14 starts in his collegiate career. He was woefully outmatched as a rookie.

Former Denver Broncos right tackle Elijah Wilkinson was signed by the Falcons prior to the season and did an admirable job in nine start for Atlanta in 2022. PFF graded him 64.3 compared to Risner’s 61.1, and his run-blocking grade was 64.4.

Edoga recently signed for the Dallas Cowboys, but he had a 77.8 grade in his only start in Week 11 against the Chicago Bears, including 84.9-run blocking.

Gossett struggled with pass protection in his spot starts as a backup lineman, but he still managed a 59.6-run blocking grade on the season.

Hennessy lost the starting-center job in the preseason to Drew Dalman and still posted a 75.4 with an 82.6-run blocking grade in three starts at guard.

According to PFF, EVERY player the Falcons threw out there at left guard blocked the run better than Risner.

Go with PFF on this one.

The Denver Broncos have been gashed straight up the middle of their offense for two-straight years. Center Lloyd Cushenberry is also at fault here, but the Broncos recognized the problem they had with Risner and just gave a massive free agent deal to Ben Powers at left guard.

The Broncos were historically bad on offense last year. They opted not to re-sign Risner.

That’s not a coincidence.

The Falcons would do well to steer clear of Risner for anything more than the Colby Gossett money they spent last season: $965,000 as a reserve.

Risner won’t sign for that… and that should be just fine with the Falcons.

Speaking of LG Talk — Could Falcons go OL in the NFL Draft?

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Scott Kennedy
Scott Kennedy is an Atlanta native and 20 year media veteran including time as Director of Scouting at Scout.com, Managing Editor at 247Sports, VP Content Operations at Sports Illustrated and more. Scott has appeared as a recruiting and NFL Draft analyst on dozens of media including ESPN, NFL Network, USA Today, NY Times, and more.