The Falcons completely overhauled the defensive side of the ball this offseason. Armed with enough cap space to be free in free agency, Atlanta was able to add difference-making talent at all three levels but most notably across the defensive front.
Terry Fontenot kicked the fun off by reuniting old friends. The former Saints executive brought in David Onyemata to join Ryan Nielsen, who all shared time in New Orleans. The Falcons GM wasn’t done. The club rolled out the red carpet and somehow recruited future Hall of Famer Calais Campbell to sign a one-year deal in his twilight years.
Those will prove to be the two most impactful additions to the defensive line, but there were others. Eddie Goldman came out of retirement, Lorenzo Carter is back on a new deal, and Bud Dupree joins the unit. That doesn’t even include the pieces that were already in Flowery Branch.
Ta’Quon Graham had a breakout campaign before an injury ended his season prematurely. Arnold Ebiketie is prime to do the same in his second professional season, and DeAngelo Malone, though a third-round pick, should be considered in that same breath.
It’s the deepest group the Falcons have had in the trenches in quite a long time, and it’s why Grady Jarrett could be in for the best season of his career.
He’s been a one-man wrecking crew for much of his time in Atlanta, but this year will be different. Jarrett’s best season came in 2019 when he totaled 7.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss en route to Second-Team All-Pro honors. Those defensive lines weren’t overly impressive, featuring Vic Beasley, Takkarist McKinley, Tyeler Davison, Adrian Clayborn, John Cominsky, and Jack Crawford — not exactly a menacing front.
Nobody should be surprised if he sets career marks in those categories this season. What’s even crazier? Jarrett logged 6.0 sacks and 12 tackles for loss last year with a fraction of the talent he’ll be surrounded by in 2023; some of his success can be attributed to Ta’Quon Graham.
The Texas product broke out in 2022, and though the stat sheet might not tell the whole story, the film illuminates Graham’s impact. In 11 weeks, he only logged six quarterback pressures, but Jarrett notched 5.5 of his 6.0 sacks and 10 of his 12 tackles for loss in that period, recording only 0.5 sacks and two tackles for loss over the final six games.
Now, just imagine what his production will look like next to David Onyemata and Calais Campbell while Graham assumes a rotational role. Moreover, those impressive campaigns came under Dan Quinn when Jarrett aligned more in 1T and 0T; expect similar usage in 2023.
The Falcons’ stalwart defender is primed to have the best season of his career; I wouldn’t be surprised if Grady Jarrett earns All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors by season’s end.
Photographer: Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire