It seems like a very long time since the Falcons have boasted a dominant defensive line, but apparently those happy days are here once again.
That's the good word from ESPN's Pat Yasinskas, who lists his top ten defensive linemen in the NFC South and includes three Falcons. Incredibly, one of them hasn't played a snap at the NFL level, but Yasinskas is a fearsome oracle and sees the future so clearly that he knows exactly what Matt Ryan will shout when the Falcons hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy this year.
I say that in jest, of course. But take a look at these rankings:
1. John Abraham, DE, Atlanta. Sure, go ahead and call him one-dimensional. But aren't dominant pass-rush skills the dimension you want most from a defensive end?
First of all, awesome. Where Abe walks, civilization ends. Can't dispute that. I think he's plenty capable against the run, but that's overshadowed by the fact that he just gobbles up quarterbacks. As long as he's healthy and Julius Peppers doesn't show up determined to grab a massive new contract, Abe's the guy to beat. He more or less single-handedly took care of the Falcon pass rush last year, so the fact that he might actually have some help this year makes this ranking all the more justified. Who's next?
3. Jonathan Babineaux, DT, Atlanta. Very quietly, he's become the most solid interior lineman in the division.
Babineaux was very, very solid last year, and he clearly deserved a new contract. I'm the last man to quibble with his success, and he's the only clear starter on the interior coming into 2009. Still, I can't help but think that the defensive tackle corps in this division has to have taken a bit of a nosedive for Babineaux to be considered the NFC South's best. Here's hoping that with Peria Jerry and Chauncey Davis hopefully joining him as starters, he'll be free to author a few more big plays. If nothing else, he's rock solid against both the pass and the run, and you can't argue with that.
Oh, and speaking of Jerry...
7. Peria Jerry, DT, Atlanta. He's only a rookie, but there's little bust factor with this guy. He should be a force right away.
It's nice to hear the guy getting praise this early in the game, and his skillset as a penetrating defensive tackle with size suggests that he should fit right in this year. Injuries will be my biggest concern with Jerry, but it's really much too early to say whether that'll be a factor going forward. It's also probably a little too early to include him in a top ten list, but I'm not going to argue. Flattery will get you everywhere, Pat Yasinskas.
Add in a hopefully motivated Jamaal Anderson and another solid end in Chauncey Davis and you've got a pretty good group of starters. Take that equation further and add in potential pass rush help in the form of Kroy Biermann and Lawrence Sidbury, plus a mammoth defensive tackle in Trey Lewis, and you've got a line that might actually shake up the image many have of a weak front four that doesn't create enough push in the pass rush. Dominant might be too strong a word, but with so much attention on revamped linebacking corps and the heavy competition in the secondary, it'd be nice to feel comfortable with the guys in the trenches. For once, I can't see any reason we wouldn't be.