Welcome to Friday, everyone! Dontari Poe is a Falcon and the sun is shining, we assume. We really can’t see it because it is hiding behind Dontari Poe.
With the new acquisition, the Falcons look stronger along the defensive line than they did a year ago, though they still need to add a body at defensive tackle and pull in a capable pass rusher to pair with Vic Beasley, which we’ll likely see in this year’s draft class.
What does the defensive tackle rotation look like?
Starters: Grady Jarrett, Dontari Poe
Jarrett was a dominant force in the Super Bowl, and he could be ready to take a leap forward in 2017. He’ll be one of the team’s starters, likely getting over 50% of snaps, and figures to be easily Atlanta’s most effective full-time defensive tackle when it comes to rushing the passer. He’s solid against the run, as well, and there’s so much upside here that I don’t want to put a cap on it. Suffice to say he’ll head into 2017 with breakout potential and a starting job sewn up.
Poe slides right in next to Jarrett. He played nearly 75% of the defensive snaps for the Chiefs last year, so he won’t be a two down player by any stretch of the imagination, though he’ll average fewer snaps in total. Poe is an above average run defender on his worst day and a decent pass rusher, and he should fare well with Jarrett working beside him. He’s an upgrade on basically anything Atlanta was trotting out a year ago.
Reserves: Ra’Shede Hageman, ????
Hageman always has had flashes, but he showed more of them in 2017, particularly in the back half of the campaign. He’s a strong player who can occasionally toss an offensive lineman aside like it’s not a big deal, but too often he gets locked up or loses the play. There should be plenty of snaps for him in 2017, but if he’s going to stay with Atlanta beyond this year, he’ll need to do more than flash.
The team’s fourth (and possibly fifth) defensive tackle has yet to be determined. The team could sink in a draft pick on day two or later or sign a low-budget free agent to shore up the back end of the rotation. Either way, that player will initially be behind Hageman in the pecking order, and is unlikely to have a major role in 2017 unless injury strikes.
Rotational Ends/Tackles: Jack Crawford, Derrick Shelby, Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw
You’ll primarily see these guys at defensive tackle in nickel sets and obvious passing downs, where their quickness is an asset.
Sussing out playing time for these guys will be difficult before the late summer, but my best guess is that Clayborn and Shelby will wind up playing more end, while Crawford and Upshaw will see more time inside. Upshaw is a capable run stopper who occasionally flashed as a pass rusher, while Crawford probably has a bit more upside chasing the quarterback, but hasn’t proven he can do so on a regular basis. Either way, the Falcons will have plenty of options to mix and match on passing downs, and if Shelby’s fully healthy, he’ll be intriguing on the interior.
Overall, this is a stronger group than it was a year ago. Poe is a massive upgrade on Tyson Jackson and late-career Jonathan Babineaux, Jarrett should be another year older and better, and Crawford, a healthy Shelby, and a returning Clayborn add more options and talent to the corps when they’re needed. The Falcons will be deeper and more effective at defensive tackle if they can just stay healthy, and that should mean good things for the run defense, at minimum.