Is This The Best Falcons Defense Ever?
The 2018 Atlanta Falcons defense could be the best in franchise history.
This could be the best defense the Atlanta Falcons have had in franchise history. Its that simple. The Falcons are historically known for their offense. Jamaal Anderson, Mike Vick, Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, you name it. Rarely do you ever hear about the Falcons’ defense.
This will be the year that all changes.
Starting with the defensive line, you have the 2016 sack champion, Vic Beasley, who will be returning to his natural position at defensive end. Not having to consistently depend on Beasley to play outside linebacker, should help him get back to his former self. Expect a bounce back season from him.
Next to Beasley will be veteran defensive tackle, Terrell McClain. While he may not be Dontari Poe, McClain is more than capable at eating up space in the middle with his size. The consensus was that the Falcons needed to draft a defensive tackle in one of the first two rounds but it appears as if Atlanta plans to take care of this position by committee, with McClain, Jack Crawford and third round pick, Deadrin Senat.
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The rookie from the University of South Florida has a very similar body type to Grady Jarrett. Atlanta probably figures if there is anyone who can help groom Senat, its Jarrett. A fifth round pick himself, Jarrett has worked his way to being one of the best defensive tackles in the league. The future tandem of Senat and Jarrett has the potential to be deadly.
Rounding out the defensive line is fan favorite, Takk McKinley. The second year Defensive End out of UCLA was brought along slowly last season but will have his chance to shine this season. After offseason shoulder surgery, and a six-sack season last year, big things are expected from McKinley.
Behind the defensive line, Atlanta boasts one of the best group of linebackers in the NFL. In the middle, is up and coming, Deion Jones. Entering his third season, Jones makes it almost impossible for offenses to throw (ask Drew Brees).
Jones singlehandedly eliminates most screens that are thrown at the Falcons and he doesn’t just snuff out screens, he makes quarterback’s lives miserable altogether. In 2017, Jones finished the season as the highest graded coverage linebacker in all of football, according to Pro Football Focus.
A player who is dependable but doesn’t always get the attention he deserves is De’Vondre Campbell. Last season was Campbell’s second season and he finished third on the team in tackles, only behind Keanu Neal and the aforementioned, Deion Jones. Look for Campbell to take another step forward this season.
The only potential weak spot on this defense is Duke Riley, who has spent most of this preseason getting as many plays under his belt as possible. Riley struggled last season but, according to Dan Quinn, has made strides this offseason. A measureable leap in his second season would almost certainly catapult this defense from top 10 to top 5.
In 2017, the Falcons defense finished top 10 in overall defense and most people forget, they did that without one of their starting Cornerbacks from the season before, Jalen Collins. However, the Falcons continued their tradition of building through the draft, to fill the hole left by Collins.
In what could be one of the biggest additions to the defense, the Falcons drafted Isaiah Oliver. This is a move that is flying under the radar. The Falcons already have a strong crop of Cornerbacks in the usually consistent, Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford. If Oliver can be anything close to a lockdown corner, he could take this defense to the next level.
Not only will Oliver, Trufant and Alford make it tough to pass on this defense. Offenses will also have to worry about Pro Bowl safety, Keanu Neal. Neal, who was second on the team in tackles last season, will be the enforcer this team needs at strong safety. Then you have Ricardo Allen. After playing in all but two games, since 2015, Allen is the glue for the Falcons’ defense.
What is really going to make this defense special is the depth that has been added. There is a legitimate starter and serviceable backup at almost every position. Never have the Falcons had the talent and the depth they have now. It has always been one or the other.
Depth cannot be understated, as it will be important for the Falcons to keep their young core healthy throughout the season. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl two seasons ago, with a defense that ranked 25th overall. It’ll be interesting to see what this team does, with what could not only be a top 5 defense in the NFL but the Falcons’ best defense ever.