In their annual offseason rankings, Pro Football Focus put together a list of the top 50 players in the league. Per usual, PFF quantifies nearly every ranking with specific criteria, which they did here by noting these rankings were a projection of what will happen and not any particular reaction to the 2020 season. Furthermore, PFF disregarded positional value, so guards and running backs have an equal chance at a high rank as quarterbacks, who would dominate the list if positional value was heavily factored.
Only one member of the Falcons made the top 50, Grady Jarrett at #42, which is to be expected with Julio Jones no longer on the team, who was the 35th ranked player on this list. PFF’s Sam Monson reasoning:
Very few players have done more with less help than Falcons interior lineman Grady Jarrett. It’s not that Atlanta hasn’t tried to find him some complementary pieces along the defensive line; they just haven’t had much success when they have. Jarrett continues to dominate despite this.
The now seventh-year defensive lineman has averaged over 50 total pressures over the past three seasons, earning a PFF pass-rushing grade above 80.0 in each year. He is a fantastic success story as a former fifth-round draft pick turned into one of the game’s best at a position that is currently stacked with elite talent.
Jarrett is an elite interior defensive linemen, but the national media doesn’t always give him his due as Doug Farrar of The Touchdown Wire, who compiled a list of the NFL’s top 11 interior defensive linemen, included a low-balled ranking of Jarrett. On Farrar’s list, he came in behind players like Kenny Clark, Cameron Heyward, and DeForest Buckner, who all finished behind Jarrett in pass-rush and run-stop win-rates.
Fortunately, PFF got this one right and only ranked Heyward ahead of Jarrett among the others in Farrar’s ranking. Monson noted that Heyward’s 75 defensive stops led all players at his position, and he only trails Aaron Donald in total pressure. All of this can be true, but I’ll use Monson’s words against him, “Very few players have done more with less help…”
Heyward has more help around him than Jarrett. The Falcons defense has been extremely lackluster the past few seasons; even with the addition of Dante Fowler, Jarrett shoulders much of the responsibility to make plays along the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, Heyward plays with two elite players on the defensive line in Pittsburg — Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt. That’s not to mention the likes of Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, and Devin Bush behind him.
Grady Jarrett is in the upper-echelon of players in this league, not just interior defenders, and this new-look Falcons defense could garner the respect he truly deserves if Dean Pees can turn water into wine with the Falcons’ personnel.
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