On Wednesday, I talked wistfully about the possibility of the team drafting a defensive tackle in the middle rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, instead of one of the players they wound up with. That was chiefly because the Falcons’ run defense has continued to be a huge issue, and with Ra’Shede Hageman cut and Courtney Upshaw on the shelf, the Falcons have had very few quality options behind Grady Jarrett and Dontari Poe.
Joe Vellano has shown himself to be what you would expect a player like Joe Vellano to be: Solid enough, but overmatched against some of the stronger offensive linemen out there, and not the kind of run stopper Atlanta badly needs. Getting Vellano and Tupou back on the bench (or practice squad) in favor of a proven player was an obvious move.
They fixed that yesterday when they signed Ahtyba Rubin, the former Seahawk and Bronco. Rubin was a terrific run stopper in 2016 for the Seahawks, starting 16 games at defensive tackle, and generally is just a quality, burly player who is difficult to move. The Falcons have had a ton of trouble with tackling on the second level this year as Duke Riley acclimates to the NFL and others simply whiff, which makes it even more important that the defensive line is capable of helping to stop the run. Rubin, despite his scant production and the fact that he has been cut twice this year, can certainly aid in that regard.
That’s why the signing makes a ton of sense: The Falcons were lacking a third defensive tackle who could stop the run, period. Upshaw should return and can continue to be a valuable rotational piece, but Rubin has size and a history of production on his side, and his presence should allow Upshaw to play more on passing downs and perhaps even get a look at end, if he’s needed there. Rubin can also take over from Poe on some obvious running downs, if the team wants to go in that direction, and give the team’s shiny free agent acquisition more rest than he’s gotten to this point.
For Rubin, it’s an opportunity to bolster his value again after he was unceremoniously dumped by two good defenses for no obvious reason, as the Falcons should have no trouble finding him 10-20 snaps per game throughout the rest of the 2017 season. It was an obvious win-win signing that helps the Falcons get better against the run, however incrementally, and Rubin could prove to be a key piece of the puzzle as Atlanta tries to right the ship.