This is the sixth installment of a comprehensive positional roster breakdown for the Falcons following April’s draft — moving on from quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen. After finishing the analysis of the offense with the line, we head to the other side of the trenches and begin with the defensive line — specifically the interior. Gary Emanuel is the position coach and brings 38 seasons of coaching experience to the group, including 10 seasons in the NFL. He most recently served as the defensive line coach for the Giants from 2018-19. At Purdue, Emanuel coached a bevy of talented players — Shaun Phillips, Ray Edwards, Rob Ninkovich, Anthony Spencer, Cliff Avril, Ryan Kerrigan, and Kawann Short.
The defensive front is a mixed bag in Dean Pees’ defense. In a normal defensive scheme, there are EDGE defenders that are either stand-up outside linebackers in an odd defensive front or defensive ends with their hands in the dirt in even fronts. Then, some interior defenders can be either 3-4 defensive ends or nose tackles, as well as 4-3 defensive tackles. Pees will deploy a multitude of fronts and coverages depending on the matchup. So, to make it easier, this list will include those interior players that can play defensive end and nose tackle in a 3-4 as well as defensive tackle in a 4-3 front. There are currently 12 rostered interior defensive linemen, but I expect the front office to start the season with seven or eight from this group.
Jarrett has been one of the most dominant interior defenders in football. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he had the third-highest pass rush win rate as a defensive tackle — trailing only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones. Over the past three seasons, he’s mostly aligned as a three-technique in even man fronts. This year, Falcons fans can expect the former Clemson Tiger to move all along the defensive front — three, four, and five-technique — because of how multiple Pees is with his schemes. Expect Jarrett to experience success early and often in this new system.
Emanuel has already stated that Davidson will begin this year with a new slate after little action in his rookie year. During his introductory conference call with the Atlanta media a year ago, Davidson reaffirmed his ability and willingness to move around the defensive front. “I can play it all,” Davidson said. “Whatever they want me to be, that’s what I’m going to be. If they want me at 285, 280 playing a big end on the edge or if they want to kick me inside, I can do it all.” That is exactly what the Falcons are going to expect out of him this year. He’s the perfect size and length to play a five-technique next to Jarrett as Davidson is a stout run defender but won’t be relied upon nearly as much to get after the passer. This is effectively a redo of his rookie year.
Davison was a former three-year starter with the Saints. New Orleans letting him leave in free agency and Fontenot reworking his current contract shows his value among the new regime in Atlanta. He’s a traditional run-stuffing nose tackle that plays a vital role in modern defenses that opt to put faster, smaller-bodied defenders on the field to keep up with high-powered offenses. His task is simple, consistently eat up double teams and clog the middle. If he can do those things consistently, which he showed he could in New Orleans, he’ll have a place on this team.
Senat has failed to live up to expectations thus far in his career, but there could be a revival with a new regime and defensive system. There isn’t much sense in keeping Senat and Davison, and based on last year’s snap distribution, the former seems expendable. He performed respectably his rookie year but hasn’t ascended as quickly as once hoped. Still, there is reason to believe he can find a role in this new defense.
Means played under some of Atlanta’s coaches during his time with the Ravens, which should aid in his learning of the Falcons’ new defense. He set single-season career-highs in total tackles (38), sacks (3.0), quarterback hits (six), and forced fumbles (two) in 16 games with 11 starts at defensive end for the Falcons in 2020.
Bullard spent last season with the Seahawks, where he was an effective interior presence in Seattle’s pass rush. Even though he didn’t record a sack, the pressure produced was obvious. In 11 career starts and 61 career games, he has 3.5 sacks, 13 TFLs, 14 quarterback hits, and a forced fumble. Bullard could be a fringe player, but his experiences in a 3-4 and 4-3 defense make his versatility valuable and likely a final member of the 53-man roster.
Cominsky is someone I’m really excited to see in this new-look Falcons defense, given his elite athleticism for his size. He can play on the edge in base personnel and kick inside to rush the passer next to Jarrett in sub-package personnel. I would almost guarantee that Cominsky is a lock to make this roster, and I believe he has the potential to break out in the first year under Pees. I wouldn’t be shocked if he started in base packages as a five-technique with Jarrett as a three-technique and Davison in a zero or one-technique.
Graham will see the field because of his elite run defense and positional flexibility; he has the versatility to play at both the three-technique defensive tackle in four-man fronts and a five-technique defensive end in three-man fronts. He’ll push Davidson and Cominsky for snaps, but his role will mostly be relegated to early-down situations due to his lack of pass rush ability.
Dawe projects as a two-gap defensive end that plays inside the shoulder of the offensive tackle to the gap outside of him — four, six-technique. He plays like a bigger defensive end but isn’t athletic. Though he’s strong at the point of attack and rushing through interior linemen, he doesn’t have the prototypical size a 3-4 defensive end does, but he could be successful in Pees hybrid scheme.
As a seventh-round pick out of Syracuse in 2019, Slayton didn’t play much with the Giants. He relies on his physical gifts more so than technique and IQ. If he impresses the coaches with his development, he could be a practice squad candidate with a chance to be activated to the 53-man roster in case of injuries.
Sagapolu is incredibly athletic for his size and has a real shot at making the roster. If Senat is cut and Davison is kept as the team’s nose tackle, there is reason to believe the former Wisconsin Badger could be stored on the practice squad. His upside is intriguing and no doubt a scheme fit.
Ankou will be battling with Sagapolu for a similar position. In 27 career games with Jacksonville, Cleveland, and Dallas, he’s recorded 31 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for loss, and four quarterbacks hits. Originally selected in the 2017 draft, Ankou is a longshot to make the final 53-man roster.
You must log in to post a comment.