Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis: The defensive line

Credit: Atlanta Falcons

Falcons defensive lineman Grady Jarrett has the third highest salary-cap number on the team.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth of an eight-part, position-by-position series analyzing the Falcons’ roster before they report for training camp on Tuesday.

Grady Jarrett, the Falcons two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, is back to anchor the defensive line in new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ multi-faceted, but 3-4 based defensive scheme.

“Grady has proven that he’s a tremendous football player,” defensive line coach Gary Emanuel said. “He does a lot of things really well. He has the ability to play against the run. He has the ability to play against the pass.”

The Falcons are seeking a few more good men to step forward and help along the defensive line when training camp starts on Tuesday. The players report Tuesday and have their first practice Thursday.

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said on a conference call with the media Friday that nine teams have a 90% or higher COVID-19 vaccination rate among players. The Falcons are among those nine teams.

The communication was great over the offseason under new defensive line coach Gary Manuel, according to coach Arthur Smith. But the Falcons will not really know what they have until they hold joint practices with the Dolphins, Aug. 18 through the 20. They’ll have two practices and walk-through before playing an exhibition game on Saturday, Aug. 21.

One-on-one matchups against another team is one of the valued part of joint-practices.

“We’re looking forward (to the joint practices) especially with the interior guys,” Smith said.

Jarrett started all 16 games last season and finished with 52 tackles and four sacks.

“Grady Jarrett wasn’t as productive as he was in 2019, but his 20 defeats still led all defensive tackles,” Thomas Bassinger wrote in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2021. “Though he didn’t miss any games, he played through hip, back, and groin injuries.”

The interior players are the tackles, while most of the defensive ends have been moved to the outside linebacker group.

Falcons Grady Jarrett (left) and Steven Means hit New Orleans Saints quarterback Taysom Hill forcing a fumble the Falcons recovered during the fourth quarter Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Behind Jarrett, the group of interior players include Steven Means, Tyeler Davison, John Cominskiy, Marlon Davidson, Deadrin Senat, Ta’Quon Graham, Chris Slayton, Jonathan Bullard, Chris Slayton, John Atkins and Olive Sagapolu.

Means, who played mostly at left defensive end last season, was put with the tackles by the new coaching staff.

Means started 11 of 16 games last season and played 643 defensive snaps (59%). He made 38 tackles, had three tackles for losses, three sacks and six quarterback hits.

“We had Steven Means back in Baltimore years ago and Steven has some exposure to the system, too,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said.

Davison, a run stuffer who took a pay cut to return, was a quality starter in 2020. He finished with 36 made tackles and two missed tackles over 520 snaps (48%). He started 15 of 16 games and had three hurries and one knockdown.

The Falcons’ former regime had high hopes for Cominsky, who was drafted in 2019 in the fourth round out of the Charleston. He played in 23 games and made one start over two seasons.

The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder made 28 tackles, had three tackles for losses, three quarterback hits and a sack while playing 398 defensive snaps (37%).

Davidson, who was a second-round pick in 2020, is coming off a shaky rookie season. He spent time on the reserve/COVID-19 list, played in only eight games and didn’t have a sack.

“I’m not sure what happened,” Emanuel said. “I was not here. Marlon seems to be a young man who loves football. He comes from a great football school.”

Falcons rookie defensive tackle Marlon Davidson makes a point during training camp on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, in Flowery Branch. (Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

Over the offseason, Davidson, who played at Auburn, impressed the new staff. He didn’t have the benefit of the offseason leading up to his rookie season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Emanuel thought Davidson brought into the offseason program.

“He has great physical ability,” Emanuel said. “We are expecting some great things out of Marlon.”

Senat, who was drafted in the third round in 2018, played in just five games and was on the field for just 43 snaps (4%) in 2020.

The Falcons drafted former Texas standout Ta’Quon Graham in the fifth round of the 2021 draft. He was a durable four-year starter for the Longhorns. He played in 48 college games and made 24 starts.

The Falcons signed two veterans with NFL experiences in Jonathan Bullard and John Atkins.

Bullard has played in 61 NFL games and made 11 starts in stints with the Bears, Cardinals and Seahawks.

Atkins, who played at Georgia, has played in 14 games and made six starts.

The Falcons will try to find a nose tackle from Atkins (6-2, 320), Sagapolo (6-2, 331) and Slayton (6-4, 307).

“We are looking forward to working with the guys that are here on the team,” Emanuel said. “I do want to see where we go from here.”

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Steven Means (55) gets set for a play during the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

Atlanta Falcons’ 90-man roster analysis:

Part 1: Quarterbacks

Part 2: Running Backs

Part 3: Offensive line

Part 4: Special Teams

Part 5: Wide receivers/Tight ends

Part 6: Defensive line

Part 7: Linebackers

Part 8: Secondary

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter/AJC

THE AJC’S PROJECTED DEPTH CHART

OFFENSE

WR 18 Calvin Ridley, 83 Tajae Sharpe, 88 Frank Darby, 13 Christian Blake, 86 Antonio Nunn

WR 14 Russell Gage, 17 Olamide Zaccheaus, 12 Chris Rowland, 82 Austin Trammell, 16 Jeff Badet

LT 70 Jake Matthews, 74 William Sweet, 72 Willie Beavers

LG 68 Josh Andrews, 77 Jalen Mayfield, 66 Willie Wright, 62 Bryce Hargrove

C 61 Matt Hennessy, 67 Drew Dalman, 65 Joe Sculthorpe

RG 63 Chris Lindstrom, 64 Ryan Neuzil, 75 Kion Smith, 71 Sam Jones

RT 76 Kaleb McGary, 73 Matt Gono, 77 Jalen Mayfield

TE 8 Kyle Pitts, 81 Hayden Hurst, 85 Lee Smith, 87 Jaeden Graham, 46 Parker Hesse, 80 Ryan Becker, 89 John Raine

QB 2 Matt Ryan, 5 AJ McCarron, 15 Feleipe Franks

HB 28 Mike Davis, 30 Qadree Ollison, 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 36 Tony Brooks-James, 25 Javian Hawkins, 42 Caleb Huntley

FB 40 Keith Smith

DEFENSE

DL 90 Marlon Davidson, 55 Steven Means, 95 Ta’Quon Graham, 79 Chris Slayton

DL 97 Grady Jarrett, 93 Zac Dawe, 94 Deadrin Senat, 98 John Atkins

DL 96 Tyeler Davison, 50 John Cominsky, 99 Jonathan Bullard, 69 Olive Sagapolu

OLB 56 Dante Fowler, 92 Adetokunbo Ogundeji, 42 Shareef Miller

ILB 45 Deion Jones, 51 Brandon Copeland, 53 Erroll Thompson

ILB 54 Foyesade Oluokun, 43 Mykal Walker, 48 Dorian Etheridge

OLB 91 Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, 49 Kobe Jones, 59 George Obinna

RCB 22 Fabian Moreau, 20 Kendall Sheffield, 29 Chris Williamson

LCB 24 A.J. Terrell, 33 Tyler Hall, 34 Darren Hall, 38 Marcus Murphy, 41 J.R. Pace

NCB 26 Isaiah Oliver, 25 Delrick Abrams, 35 Avery Williams

FS 23 Erik Harris, 27 Richie Grant, 37 Dwayne Johnson

SS 21 Duron Harmon, 32 Jaylinn Hawkins, 39 T.J. Green, 38 Marcus Murphy

SPECIALISTS

K 7 Younghoe Koo

P 4 Sterling Hofrichter, 9 Dom Maggio

LS 47 Josh Harris

KO 7 Younghoe Koo

KR 84 Cordarrelle Patterson, 12 Chris Rowland, 35 Avery Williams

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