While Atlanta has been mostly quiet in free agency this offseason, they made their first (and likely only) “splash” signing of the year in Kansas City’s Dontari Poe. The two-time Pro Bowler is a truly massive defensive tackle with tremendous athleticism for his size (he ran a 4.98 at 346 lbs at the Combine).
Poe primarily played nose tackle in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. Kansas City clearly viewed him as one of their best defensive linemen, as he played a whopping 75% of snaps for them last season. That’s a ridiculous number for any defensive lineman, especially a 340+ lb nose tackle.
In Atlanta, Poe’s role is likely to be more versatile. Poe will still play the nose tackle position for the Falcons, albeit in a slightly different scheme (Quinn’s 4-3 under shares many similarities to a 3-4, however). He’ll also occasionally play the 3-tech role and could rotate with Grady Jarrett in nickel packages.
Quinn has apparently asked Poe to slim down to around 330, which could make him a bit more of a threat as a pass rusher while remaining large enough to effectively take on double teams in the run game. I expect Poe will be featured primarily in the base defense, but will also be rotated in on nickel packages whenever the Falcons feel they have a mismatch.
Poe is undoubtedly a huge addition (no pun intended) to the Falcons’ defensive line, but how might his presence affect the defense as a whole?
A weakness of the Falcons’ defense during the 2016 season was their inability to stop the run consistently. They clearly missed the presence of a big body in the middle of their defensive line—a role that was played effectively by Paul Soliai during the 2015 season. Quinn had instead focused on creating a defensive line rotation that was more well-rounded to combat the problems the 2015 defense had against the pass.
That strategy clearly worked out better for the Falcons overall, but the run defense suffered. To fix that issue, while keeping the pass defense sound, Quinn needed to find a run-stuffing DT that was also capable of providing pass rush when called upon. Enter Dontari Poe—a massive NT with proven ability against the run that also flashes as a pass rusher.
Poe seems like a perfect fit for the defense Quinn is trying to build. He’ll be called upon to add toughness to a base and short-yardage defense that was occasionally pushed around in the run game. Adding a Pro Bowl-caliber player like Poe to a defensive line that already includes players like Grady Jarrett and Vic Beasley means that opposing offensive lines will have to make tougher choices about which player to double-team.
In the nickel defense, there should also be ample opportunities for Poe to contribute. His size and athleticism make him a mismatch against smaller centers and interior linemen, and Atlanta may elect to use Poe to help crush the pocket in those situations. Adding another body to the pass rushing rotation also helps to keep the rest of the players fresh, which could lead to more effective snaps for players like Clayborn and Upshaw.
Overall, Poe’s presence will likely allow the Falcons to more effectively and consistently shut down opposing rushing attacks, without compromising their ability to rush the passer. Ultimately, if offenses are more preoccupied with slowing down a dangerous Falcons defensive line, it will create more opportunities for the players behind them—the LBs and the secondary—to make big plays.
What do you think of Poe’s addition to the Falcons’ defense? How do you envision him contributing to the defense’s success in 2017?