Predicting the 2021 Atlanta Falcons defensive superlatives

Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) tries to break tackles by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (43) and linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (54) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 5, 2020; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones (33) tries to break tackles by Atlanta Falcons linebacker Mykal Walker (43) and linebacker Foyesade Oluokun (54) in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports /

Another season of Atlanta Falcons football usually means another year of wondering how the defense will perform. Will they be dreadful? Or will they be decent?

Last season, the Atlanta Falcons defense was a split between those two. One week they would be getting carved up by Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, while a few weeks later they would be dominating a talented Las Vegas Raiders offense.

Good defenses can rely mostly upon their veteran players who are proven contributors, while the bad or inconsistent defenses have to rely on young guys. The Falcons are definitely the latter of the two.

The Falcons have the talent on the offensive side, it is the questionable defense that will be tested.

Here is a prediction for which Atlanta Falcons will surprise, and who will disappoint:

Defensive MVP: A.J. Terrell

This could easily be Grady Jarrett’s award, but that would be way too easy to predict.

A.J. Terrell is one of the most talented corners in the league. He has the height to cover the big receivers, and the speed to cover the fast receivers. Think back to when the Falcons played the Raiders. There was a play where Derek Carr threw a pass down the field to the speedster, Henry Ruggs, but A.J. Terrell was step for step with him and got the pass breakup.

Receivers no doubt have an advantage, and while Rugg’s was not exactly spectacular last year, he still has outrageous speed, but somehow Terrell did not give up a step to him.

The skillset is perfect with him, it will just be about putting together consistent play over the 17 game schedule (and hopefully more games after).

All the early reports on Terrell have been glowing to say the least. He has been one of the biggest standouts thus far in training camp.

Defensive surprise: Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

Seeing Jacob play great throughout the season would be welcomed by the Atlanta Falcons more than anything. The lack of an established pass rush on the team is concerning.

Dante Fowler will be a key to the play of the defense but the opposite of him we should all hope that Tuioti-Mariner plays like he did against the Raiders.

He has managed to keep his place on the roster for a few years now. Much like many undrafted free agents, he has shown flashes but that is not enough in this league. That should all change for him this year.

Imagining a year where JTM gets eight-plus sacks is definitely not out of the realm of possibilities.

Defensive disappointment: Dante Fowler Jr.

There certainly are not many choices on the Atlanta Falcons defense that could be considered a disappointment, since a lot of them already are.

Dante Fowler had an extremely underwhelming first year in Atlanta. When they signed him to a relatively big contract, they were not looking for three sacks all year, more like ten or more.

A lot of people think that he could bounce back and become the player he was in L.A., which certainly he could do. If he does not, however, it does not look good for the Falcons defense and Fowler would have another disappointing year.

Again, all signs point towards him having more than three sacks, but if he does not break eight or even ten-plus sacks, it will be disappointing.

Most underappreciated: Duron Harmon

It is extremely easy to look past a solid veteran and not give him too much credit for his play. It seems as though that has been the summary of Harmon’s career.

He has consistently taken the field and produced good play.

He may not come up with eight interceptions in a year, but that is not who he is. He is someone who will do his job, and do it very well. The fact that the Falcons were able to sign him for such little money is already a clear sign that he is underappreciated.

Something else that will get overlooked is his impact on the young safeties. Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant may end up benefitting the most from Harmon. Harmon will teach them the game like he is another coach. It is invaluable to have a veteran amongst the young guys.

Bounce back season: Kendall Sheffield

It does not take much knowledge to know that Kendall Sheffield took quite a big step down from his rookie season with the Falcons.

In his rookie year, he showed some elite reps, while in his second year he was a liability to say the least. Many things could factor into that but having Dean Pees as a coordinator can only help Sheffield play closer to his rookie year.

Kendall Sheffield no doubt has the talent to make it in the NFL. He is one of the fastest players in the league and hopefully he will play much better so that the team can match him up against the opponent’s fastest receiver.

Breakout player: Mykal Walker

If there was one thing that Dan Quinn did not struggle with when he was with the Falcons, it was finding later-round linebackers who could flat-out play.

Think about De’Vondre Campbell, Foye Oluokun, and Deion Jones as a few names. The next one on that list should be Mykal Walker.

Walker was surprisingly great in his limited amount of snaps during his rookie season. In fact, he was one of the highest-graded coverage guys in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He figures to be more of a presence as an outside rusher which is great for him. He no doubt has the versatility to play in multiple places, so it is good to see the early reports of him doing just that.

Watch out for Mykal Walker in 2021, if given consistent snaps, he could be another quality linebacker for the Falcons defense.

Next. Five current and former Atlanta Falcons who have Hall of Fame potential. dark