Long considered an underdog as a two-star recruit turned fifth-round draft pick, Jarrett has become the Falcons’ best defensive player during his time with the franchise. As such, he was rewarded with a four-year contract extension worth $68 million.
His Pro Bowl selections came after he received the coveted second contract, showing he had no signs of letting up.
“I just have such a high standard for myself,” Jarrett said. “I could go out there and play a good game and think there was more stuff I could have done. That’s just the way I’m kind of wired.”
This season, Jarrett has totaled 48 tackles, four sacks and a career-best 18 quarterback hits. Although the Falcons’ defense has had its share of ups and downs, Jarrett has been a consistent presence throughout. No matter the opponent, offensive lines have schemed their game plans toward Jarrett, often double-teaming and slide-protecting his way.
Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said those details show how much the rest of the league has come to respect Jarrett in his sixth season.
“I believe the league definitely takes notice of what Grady’s doing,” Morris said. “You can tell by the protections he gets, the slides that come to him. All the different things people do in order to not allow him to wreck the game. He’s a game-wrecker for us. He has been in the past, he has been at times. There have been certain things about him that let you know the respect and recognition around the league is certainly there.”
Jarrett’s journey of proving people wrong has been well-documented. A lightly sought-after recruit, Jarrett became a contributor at Clemson as a sophomore. His junior and senior seasons were spectacular as he became one of the defense’s primary leaders.
After Jarrett’s senior season, much of the attention in the 2015 NFL draft focused on his teammate, defensive end Vic Beasley. After selecting Beasley in the first round of that year’s draft, the Falcons followed that by taking Jarrett in the fifth. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told former Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff that Jarrett’s selection would pay off down the road.
“I told (Dimitroff) that Vic is a freaky guy as an athlete, and you’re going to love him. But Grady Jarrett, he’s a fifth-rounder, but he’s going to change your community,” Swinney said. “He’s going to change your locker room. He’s going to make y’all better as people. The only reason Grady was a fifth-rounder was because he didn’t have the measurables everybody is looking for. Well, go back and do a re-draft now and see all those guys who went in front of him, and I think a lot of people miss on great players like Grady Jarrett. They don’t see through that stuff.”
Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich remembered hearing a similar sentiment from Swinney when the Falcons’ staff visited Clemson’s campus to work out Jarrett and Beasley before that year’s draft.
“He said more than once that if he was to build an NFL franchise, that would be his first-round pick,” Ulbrich said. “I thought that spoke volumes, considering all the players who have come through that building.”
In six seasons, Jarrett has become what Swinney predicted. In addition to his two Pro Bowl nods, Jarrett was a second-team AP All-Pro last season. This year marked the first time he was named a Falcons team captain.
“Grady is one of the great people on our team,” Morris said. “He’s one of our leaders. He’s one of the guys that’s a great example for any young player coming in here. He’s a great example for any lower-round draft pick that you can become anything you want to be if you set your mind to it and take that to another level.”
Although the Falcons have been eliminated from postseason contention, Jarrett said he’s entering these final two games against the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to accomplish more.
Having climbed the ranks as an underdog, it’s a mentality he’s never lost.
“I’ve never been easily satisfied,” Jarrett said. “I always try to find a way to get better and strive for more. I know nothing in this world is owed to you, so you have to work for everything you want. There’s a lot that I want, so I want to continue to work hard and not be denied.”