The Falcons added a haul of free agents this offseason, namely on the defensive side of the ball. The likes of Jessie Bates III, Calais Campbell, and David Onyemata will dramatically improve the team, but drafting and developing is still the most efficient way to build sustainable success. This continues my series exploring potential breakout candidates for the Falcons in 2023, moving on to Ta’Quon Graham.
Check out any other parts of the series if you’ve missed them!
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Richie Grant
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Troy Andersen
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Drew Dalman
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Jeff Okudah
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Kaden Elliss
- Falcons Breakout Candidates: Arnold Ebiketie
The Falcons were dealt massive blows in their Week 11 victory over the Bears. Kyle Pitts and Ta’Quon Graham suffered season-ending injuries, but they were having wildly different seasons. Pitts was amid a stinker after becoming the second rookie tight end in history to eclipse 1,000 yards, while Graham was in the middle of a mini breakout.
Before the injury, Graham showed promise, making a solid contribution with 34 tackles across 11 games, marking a significant improvement compared to his rookie season in 2021, during which he recorded 15 tackles in 13 games. Much of his impact can be seen in Grady Jarrett‘s production.
The Texas product may not have the sack totals or quarterback hits of some others, but his presence kept opposing offensive lines from double and triple-teaming Jarrett. In the first 11 games before Graham’s injury, Jarrett posted 5.5 of his six total sacks and 10 of his 12 tackles for a loss. That’s a considerable difference.
The additions of David Onyemata and Calais Campbell will only benefit Graham even more. Ryan Nielsen should as well. The first-time defensive coordinator spent every season working with the Saints’ defensive line since 2017.
Over that period, New Orleans recorded 281 sacks, the second most in the NFL, finishing in the top 10 in five of the last six seasons. So, it’s not hard to see who will benefit the most from Nielsen’s presence — the defensive line and Graham.
“What he’s going to do is actually bring a pass rush,” Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan said on ESPN Radio’s ‘Canty & Carlin,’ via ESPN. “Now he’s going to bring in some pass-rushers, and if not, he knows how to cultivate them. One of the best teachers of the defensive line that I’ve ever been a part of.”
Graham should experience another jump in his development. Considering he was a fifth-round pick, Terry Fontenot deserves a ton of praise. He’s become an impact run defender, and his pass rush is the next to come. Under Nielsen, he’ll have all the tools to realize his full potential.
Photographer: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire