This is the sixth of a ten-part series reviewing the Falcons season and taking a look at the future outlook, position-by-position. If you missed any other installments, be sure to check them out.
We finished up the offensive side of the ball last week, and as we move on to the defensive side of the ball, we’re staying in the trenches — the single most glaring area that needs bolstering on the roster.
Grady Jarrett is the leader of this defense and by far the only defensive linemen who made a consistent impact this season. Jarrett’s stat line is relatively underwhelming, but when you consider the circumstances there’s more than meets the eye. He played 865 snaps and had 59 tackles, one sack, and 17 quarterback pressures as the lone producer along the defensive front.
Jarrett is under contract in 2022, but the Falcons will need to address his deal before the start of next season. To lower his 2022 cap hit, the Falcons could extend him or trade him altogether. He’s clearly one of Atlanta’s biggest trade assets. If Terry Fontenot has no intention of re-signing the former fifth-round pick, the first-time general manager should acquire draft capital.
Jonathan Bullard, Tyeler Davison, Marlon Davidson, Mike Pennel, Anthony Rush, and Ta’Quon Graham were all just “guys.” Even with Graham flashing at times late in the season, none of them showed an ability to consistently pressure the quarterback next to Jarrett, who commands a ton of double teams. Davidson was the only interior defender who notched a sack other than Jarrett, which has to change going forward.
Bullard played respectably, but injuries held him to only nine games, finishing with 21 tackles and less than 20% of defensive snaps. Davison made 11 starts and finished with 30 tackles on 30% of the defensive snaps, but he could end up being a cap casualty.
Given the play of Pennel and Rush, Davison is expendable. Both men give the Falcons the same level of production when defending the run as Davison, but cost a fraction of the price. I’d be shocked if one of Pennel and Rush aren’t brought back in 2022. Pennel played in 10 games, 250 defensive snaps, and made 21 tackles, while Rush started six games, playing 251 defensive snaps and finishing with 19 tackles.
Davidson is a former second-round pick, and to this point, he’s been a disappointment. This next season will be one of his last chances to stick in Atlanta, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he loses playing time in 2022 to Ta’Quon Graham.
Graham improved as the season progressed, given the coaching staff gave him more opportunities in the latter weeks of the year. Graham played at least 20% of defensive snaps in the final eight games, as well as more than 30% in the final four. Graham’s offseason will be focused on adding strength and speed while improving his mental grasp of the game.
The Falcons need Graham, at the very least, to be a solid rotational piece for this defensive line. The Falcons gave up 131.9 rushing yards per game, ranking 27th in the league. This group needs a shake-up because the interior defenders under contract in 2022 don’t exactly inspire confidence. Even if Graham takes another step forward, Jarrett still needs a running mate who can take advantage of offensive lines doubling and tripling him. This group could look pretty pathetic if Fontenot does, in fact, capitalize on Jarrett’s trade value.
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