Atlanta Falcons offseason positional expectations: Defensive tackle

Aug 24, 2020; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett loosens up for the second scrimmage on Monday, August 24, 2020 in Flowery Branch. Mandatory Credit: Curtis Compton/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports
Aug 24, 2020; Flowery Branch, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett loosens up for the second scrimmage on Monday, August 24, 2020 in Flowery Branch. Mandatory Credit: Curtis Compton/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports /

The Atlanta Falcons interior defensive line was okay in 2020.

Grady Jarrett is the anchor of the Atlanta Falcons defensive line and is clearly the best player on this defense in 2020.

The Falcons have struggled on defense for several years but they made some strides in 2020, primarily against the run, finishing fourth in the league in run-stop win rate (Grady finished eighth on a personal level). Having a dominant player goes a long way to team success but the rest of this group played pretty well.

While the Atlanta Falcons also finished fourth in pass rush win rate they finished 24th in sacks. An issue that points to poor play in the secondary and from the edge more than the interior line. Even with the improvement, Grady could use some help.

Generating more interior pressure will help the rest of the defense get home.

Current Roster:

Grady Jarret, Tyeler Davison, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Chris Slayton

We all know how good Grady is but there are some solid complementary pieces on this line as well. Tyeler Davison has been a fine addition since joining the team in 2019. Especially when it comes to clogging up the line against the run.

Deadrin Senat has spent a ton of time on the inactive list even though he has shown flashes when given the opportunity, hopefully, he’ll see the field more under this new coaching staff.

Marlon Davidson was a forgotten man in 2020 after suffering both an injury and positive Covid-19 testing, limiting him to only eight games. There was hope that Davidson could step in and be that high-level compliment to Grady Jarret when they took him in the second round.

If healthy he should get the opportunity to grow into the player the Falcons hoped he would.

Grady is the only truly significant contract at defensive tackle for the Atlanta Falcons and he’s not going anywhere. Tyeler Davison, while an effective player, would save $3.5 million against the cap if he were to be cut with a post-June first designation.

If the Atlanta Falcons are desperate for money this offseason Davison could end up being an unfortunate cut.

Free Agency

Plenty of big names available but worth the cost?

The Atlanta Falcons only have one player from the defensive tackle group headed to free agency and that is Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Tuioti-Mariner played a limited role in 2020 but showed some promise.

He should absolutely be resigned for what should be an affordable contract.

There are some interesting names at the top of the free-agent market. Kawann Short and recently cut Jurrell Casey are the big names. While Casey does have a Tennessee connection to Arthur Smith and Dean Pees it may not mean much as the team and Casey did not part on good terms.

Short has missed significant time in two consecutive seasons making long-term durability an issue.

Both Casey and Short are over 30 and coming off injuries which may lower their price tag a bit but it should still be $10+ million per year.

While either player would be a nice addition to pair with Grady it is probably a long shot. Unless Casey and Dean Pees have a close relationship from their time in Tennessee that makes Atlanta a target destination.

After that are plenty of well know names like Ndamukong Suh, Corey Peters, and Jonathan Hankins. None of these guys is going to be full-time players, and while they would be reasonable depth pieces there should be better options.

The most two most interesting free agents to watch are Sheldon Rankins and DaQuan Jones.

Jones has connections with both Dean Pees and Arthur Smith from their time in Tennessee. If Tyeler Davison were to walk in free agency Jones would be a great upgrade in that nose tackle position.

Rankins just finished up his contract in New Orleans and Terry Fontenot may be interested in bringing in some familiar names. Especially someone like Rankins who had a hand in drafting.

Rankins had a great year in 2018 but has been unable to repeat that performance.

Both 2019 and 2020 were shortened by achilles injuries. While one of the most impactful injuries an athlete can sustain it is possible to fully recover but it can be a lengthy process. Even though he was able to play the lingering effects of the injuries were certainly a factor in his performance.

That being said he is only 26 and says he feels better than he has since the first injury. If his connection to Fontenot is strong and a one-year prove-it deal can be reached the Falcons would be smart to take a long look and hope he looks like he did in 2018 when he logged eight sacks.


The Atlanta Falcons should add depth on day two

While the Falcons may bring in some vets to help solidify this unit they should also look to find depth in the draft. There isn’t really an early first-round talent in this years class for the Falcons to look at on day one.

Alabama’s Christian Barmore is considered the best but should go more towards the end of the first round.

On day two there are interesting options like Iowa’s Levi Onwuzurike, USC team mates Jay Tufele and Marlon Tuipulotu should all require second-round picks. Ultimately the third round may be a sweet spot, Marvin Wilson out of FSU is a high upside player that still needs development. Tyler Shelvin is massive and could be a long term nose tackle, especially if Tyeler Davison ends up being cut this offseason.

This class has depth but lacks true elite upside at the position.

Grady might have some new names lined up beside him

The best bet for this line to make a major improvement is for Marlon Davidson to be healthy and show year two growth. If he can be the player he was drafted to be he and Grady should be an exciting pair.

The free agency market has some interesting names and I would expect at least one or two veteran additions. If any of the big-name players coming off injury are willing to take a team-friendly deal to prove they are healthy they could provide a big boost to the line while not hobbling the teams salary cap. The draft could be interesting but late day two or day three should really be where the team looks to add a young depth player.

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