Falcons: Grady Jarrett low-balled among the NFL’s top 11 interior defensive linemen

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Doug Farrar of The Touchdown Wire compiled a list of the NFL’s top 11 interior defensive linemen, which he describes as:

We’ve called this list “The NFL’s top 11 interior defensive linemen,” but in truth, interior defensive linemen also play the edge, and they also stunt pressure from just about every gap.

When these guys do play inside, their ability to disrupt from the inside is more important than it’s been in previous generations. With the NFL moving to more of a quick (zero- to three-step drop passing game), edge guys don’t always have time to get home before the quarterback gets rid of the ball. So, the inside guys, who don’t have edges to bend, had better get there more often. Oh, and you still have to be a dominant run-stopper.

Grady Jarrett is the best defensive player on the Falcons roster entering the 2021 season. He’s invaluable to the front seven as he commands so much attention but still consistently applied pressure among the best interior defenders. According to ESPN Analytics, Jarrett ranked third (19%) in pass-rush win-rate among interior defenders behind Chris Jones (20%) and Aaron Donald (24%) and ahead of guys like Kenny Clark, Cameron Heyward, and DeForest Buckner — all ranked higher than Jarrett on Farrar’s list.

Some might point towards their ability to defend the run as to why Clark, Heyward, and Buckner are ranked higher than Jarrett, but the analytics wouldn’t corroborate that notion. The former Clemson Tiger ranks eighth (39%) in run-stop win-rate among interior defenders, which is better than every defender ranked ahead of Jarrett on Farrar’s top 11. Here’s his reasoning for Jarrett’s rank:

Jarrett lasted until the 137th pick in the fifth round of the 2015 draft because he was allegedly too small to make an impact at the NFL level, and he’s been making people pay for it ever since. Nobody remembers the three-sack performance in Super Bowl LI due to Jarrett’s Falcons blowing a certain 28-3 lead, but Jarrett had a legit shot at MVP in that game had Atlanta held on, and Jarrett has been an absolute force throughout his NFL career. 2020 showed more of the same, as Jarrett totaled four sacks, 17 quarterback hits, 35 quarterback hurries, and 26 stops with very little help alongside him. Jarrett is able to win consistently inside the guards because he’s freakishly strong for his 6-foot-0, 305-pound frame, but he also brings a formidable quickness to his pass rush.

Farrar made the point himself as to why Jarrett should be higher than Clark, Buckner, and Heyward, “… with very little help alongside him.” The Falcons have fielded a talentless defense each of the past few years, especially along the defensive front where Jarrett plays. Green Bay has Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith, and Rashaan Gary to support Clark along the Packers’ defensive front — not to mention Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage, and Adrian Amos on the backend. Pittsburgh has Stephon Tuitt, TJ Watt, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Terrell Edmunds supporting Heyward. Indianapolis had Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, and Xavier Rhodes supporting Buckner on the Colts’ defense.

Jarrett played alongside Dante Fowler, but he had his worst season — statistically — since entering the league. Deion Jones and Foye Oluokun are both incredible players, but off-ball linebackers can only help their defensive linemen so much. Atlanta’s secondary last season was abysmal, which is why the entire unit looks different this year. The fact is, Jarrett produced more with less help around him. I believe he’s the third-best interior defender behind Chris Jones and Aaron Donald.


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