The world was introduced to Grady Jarrett during Super Bowl 51, when he sacked the usually unsackable Tom Brady three times. A fifth-round pick out of Clemson, Jarrett could be considered one of the five best players in his draft class by the time his career is over. He is a testament to what the front office and Dan Quinn have been able to accomplish in the late rounds of the NFL draft. And he is about to have a breakout season for the dirty birds.
Jarrett was a part of the initial group of players that Dabo Sweeney recruited that not only turned Clemson into a winning program but changed the entire culture of football in South Carolina. A dominant force on the interior defensive line, Jarrett recorded 28.5 tackles for loss in his final three seasons with the Tigers. Numbers that would usually put a defensive tackle near the top of draft boards, but questions about Jarrett’s height, as he is generously listed at 6’1″, led to him being taken in the 5th round.
The late selection did not slow him down, and if anything, it gave him a chip on his shoulder going forward. He only played in 268 snaps in his rookie season, but was already impressing around the league with his performance in those limited snaps. According to Pro Football focus, Jarrett had 14 tackles in just 113 running plays, putting him at fourth in the league among all defensive tackles in run-stop percentage as a rookie. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the seventh best selection after the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft in his first season, but after an even more impressive second season, he deserves to be much higher on that list today.
Jarrett earned his way to a starting spot at defensive tackle heading into his second season. However, his sophomore season did not get off to the kind of start he envisioned. He only had 12 tackles in the team’s first five games which led to him losing his starting role temporarily. That all changed in a week 6 matchup in Seattle, a game in which Jarrett did not start, but still managed to record 7 tackles, the most he had in a single game all season. From there, he picked up where he left off his rookie season. He started the last 10 games and had 29 tackles and 2 sacks over that span, before becoming a star for the Falcons in the playoffs.
The entire defense was a different animal in the playoffs, and it all started with the Falcons ability to get pressure on the quarterback. Jarrett was an integral part of that, providing consistent pressure on the quarterback from the interior defensive line, a rarity in today’s NFL. This all of course culminated it Jarret’s epic three-sack showcase in the Super Bowl, in which he was by far the best player on the Falcons defense.
That kind of performance in a game of that magnitude against a team as well-coached as the Patriots is enough to believe this first-year starter might be cut from a different cloth than the rest. Jarrett has not shied away from he new role as leader on the defense either. He told Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “(The Super Bowl) makes me set a standard I have to hold myself to or try to surpass. I feel like it’s the beginning for my career, just kind of scratching the surface of what’s to come.” And there is reason to believe the best has yet to come.
Cameron DaSilva of FoxSports recently came up with a list of the top 11 defensive lineman poised for a breakout season in 2017. Coming in at number one on that list was none other than the Falcons Grady Jarrett. In the article, DaSilva referred to not only Jarrett’s progression as a reason he could be the NFL’s next breakout star, but also the defense around Jarrett that has gotten increasingly better piece by piece. The addition of Dontari Poe should allow for more pass rushing opportunities for the Clemson product, and with great pass-rushers like Vic Beasley Jr. and Takkarist McKinley around him, there will be plenty of meetings at the quarterback.
DaSilva even went as far to compare Jarrett’s possible 2017 production to what we have seen out of Aaron Donald the last couple of seasons. Those are some high, maybe even unrealistic expectations, but there is no reason to think Jarrett could not be a pro-bowler as early as next season. Expect him to double his sack total and continue to develop into an elite run-stopper. The Falcons got their hands on something special in the fifth-round of the 2015 draft, and the rest of the world is about to find out Jarrett’s Super Bowl 51 sack special was just the beginning.