When looking back at the 2013 and 2014 Falcons, the defensive line received a good bit of criticism and rightly so. The inability to stop the run or pressure the quarterback was persistent, and the defensive line was justly criticized. However, going into 2015, there's some hope that the interior of the line - the defensive tackles - may now have some quality and depth. What was once a weakness could surprise some fans by quickly becoming a strength. Let's take a look at the players and assess what we have.
There may not be a player in the NFL that is as underrated every year as Babineaux. The USS Babs has been a great interior defender since his first day in the league. When used properly at the 3-tech, Babs is able to shoot single gaps with the absolute best. He played decently as a 3-4DE in 2013 and 2014, but I'd expect we see him back to his best role under Quinn. The only thing going against Babineaux at this point is his age. He's 33 (turns 34 in October), so it would appear his best years are behind him. But don't rule out his ability to disrupt on the interior. He's a quality player who - with reduced snaps - could bring the interior pressure that gives QBs nightmares.
The monstrous Soliai is classic 3-4 nose-tackle who would traditionally man the two A-gaps. It's unclear if Quinn will continue to use him as a 2-gap defender, or if he'll use him on running downs in the under single-gap 1T. When healthy, Soliai is a stout run defender and is capable of holding the point. While he's not going to be a 3-down DT, he does have a role to play, even if he's not a perfect fit for the Quinn 4-3 Under.
Even though we listed Hageman with the defensive ends, I'm including him here because he stands a very good chance of getting significant snaps as a 3T in Quinn's defense. The second year player intrigued fans last year due to his sheer physical potential and he showed flashes of it in limited playing time. When his technique is good, Ra'shede can be nearly unstoppable on the interior. He's big, fast, disruptive and powerful but his effort and technique are often lacking. If he can turn the corner on those areas this year, Hageman could be a breakout player under Dan Quinn. He's a player to watch closely in 2015.
Much has already been said about Jarrett, but let's quickly recap it here. The 6'1" DT was considered a bit undersized, but was still considered to be a second round talent. The Falcons nabbed him early in the fifth round, and he was immediately trumpeted as a potential steal of the draft. At Clemson, Jarrett worked in tandem with Vic Beasley in consistently terrorizing Quarterbacks every week. He's a classic 3T with a great first step, fantastic hand usage and very good leverage - all the things you want in an interior defender. His upside is intriguing and even if he only gets a handful of snaps initially, look for Jarrett to become a quality contributor this year.
Outlook for 2015
While many would agree that the Falcons defensive line was a big weakness in 2013 and 2014, it's hard not to feel better about this group on the inside in 2015. If guys like Jarrett and Hageman can live up to their potential, and Babineaux can give us quality play for another year, we could be in for a quick turnaround in the level of play at defensive tackle.