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Why a deep rotation on the defensive line is the right play for the Atlanta Falcons

With only one or maybe two elite players on the defensive front, Atlanta must rotate.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons have made exactly two moves to bolster their defensive line, an area of focus for the team in 2017.

  1. Re-signed veteran defensive end/defensive tackle Courtney Upshaw, who brings size and physicality to the mix
  2. Signed veteran defensive end/defensive tackle Jack Crawford, who brings length and some pass rushing production to the mix

That’s it so far. While there’s little doubt the Falcons will add at least one more potential impact player in this year’s draft class, if not more, the team has placed a notably heavy emphasis on having a number of bodies along the defensive front who can do what Atlanta needs done. It’s not as sexy as having a couple of elite pass rushers and dominant defensive tackles, sure, but it’s a sensible approach.

Take Seattle, where Dan Quinn honed his coaching skills. They have some legitimately great players on their defensive line, but they’ve also had a number of guys who had specialized or modest skill sets who could play anywhere from 10-30 snaps per game and help out.

The Falcons currently have Adrian Clayborn, Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, and Jack Crawford available to rotate between defensive end and defensive line, plus Vic Beasley and Brooks Reed at defensive end, and Grady Jarrett and and Ra’Shede Hageman at defensive tackle. The Falcons can use these guys to keep players fresh and mix and match when they need to in different packages, both of which are valuable. Seattle, as mentioned, has been making hay with this approach for a long time.

This is why Atlanta’s inability and unwillingness to try to land multiple impact, full-time starters along the defensive line in free agency makes so much sense. They have an approach that has borne fruit early and proves to be less costly in the long run. Now they just need, inarguably, to add more talent and get better line play in 2017, and they can rotate all they like.