Jalen Mayfield struggled mightily as a rookie for the Atlanta Falcons. He was graded as the worst pass protecting offensive lineman in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Just 20-years old and only 14-career starts when he was drafted out of Michigan… at tackle… it wasn’t surprising that he struggled as a rookie. The hope was that he would take a step forward as as second-year pro, but that hasn’t happened to this point.
Journeyman offensive lineman Elijah Wilkinson has gotten the snaps with the first team at left guard, where Mayfield started 16 games last year.
Friday after practice, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith revealed that Mayfield has been dealing with a lower back problem that has likely hindered his progress early in camp.
“Just a little update,” said Smith at the Falcons press conference, “Jalen Mayfield, he’s dealing with a low back issue. We’ve got to get it to calm down. He’s a tough kid. He’s been grinding out. We’ll see where that goes.”
“But he’s been out here. We’re trying to calm it down, and we’ll see what it look like hopefully next week.”
Smith was trying to help protect Mayfield who has come under criticism (including this site) while battling an injury.
“I’m just trying to be transparent with you guys,” said Smith. “Because it’s unfair sometimes, guys are in there, and he’s trying to win a job, and you know something is bothering him.”
“We’ll see how it goes; as everyone knows, backs can be tricky.”
Smith wouldn’t come right out and say that Mayfield has been fighting the injury since the beginning of camp, but it was obvious from his answer that was the case.
“Give the guy some privacy, but put it this way, he’s a really tough guy. It’s something we don’t foresee as being major, but as you guys know, dealing with backs, heads, hearts… these things can be tricky.”
Mayfield turned 22 in May. It’s way too early to give up on the 2021 third-round pick despite his struggles. As he gets healthy, hopefully the Falcons will see the leap forward in his second year many were expecting.