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Falcons post-draft roster review: Defensive Line

Fact: Grady Jarrett collected three sacks in his Pop Warner championship game

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since day one of the Dan Quinn era, the mantra of “Fast and Physical” Falcons football was destined to be seen vividly on the defensive side. More in particular, the defensive line. Going back to those Seattle Seahawks defenses in 2013-14 that were ran by Quinn, while the “Legion of Boom” secondary bathed in the limelight, the defensive line was more of the engine of the entire defense.

The same goes for the current day Falcons. Quinn’s vision is to implement that mentality across the entire defense but the defensive line is where all the attention goes to. This past season, the defense racked up 34 sacks, which was a significant jump from the lackluster 19 sacks in 2015. The Falcoholic roster review now turns its pages to the talented and deep defensive line.

Current Depth Chart

Starters: Brooks Reed, Dontari Poe, Grady Jarrett, Ra’Shede Hageman

Reserves: Takkarist McKinley (R), Derrick Shelby, Courtney Upshaw, Jack Crawford, Adrian Clayborn

Special Packages: Vic Beasley Jr.

After the establishment of Quinn as head coach, he has acquired or drafted nine of the 10 players listed above. Which goes to show the amount of work has been done to this unit since early 2015. Now the group as a whole has depth, girth, speed, and finally, versatility. A vital component to the unit’s effectiveness.

In 2016, the team was led in sacks by strong side linebacker Vic Beasley Jr, who also led the league in the same category with 15.5. His progression this upcoming season will firmly establish Beasley as one of the league’s premier pass rushers. While listed as a linebacker on the depth chart, he does join the defensive line on pass rushing situations as a nickel defensive end. Offenses are now focused on stopping Beasley which makes the addition of Takkarist McKinley, 2017 26th overall pick, even more complicated for opponents. The 265-lb defensive end is a bolt of lightning on the field and on the microphone. His attributes matches the “Fast and Physical” perception the team is painting.

The Falcons also received a gift in free agency this offseason by signing 346-lb defensive tackle Dontari Poe. The two-time Pro Bowler makes the defensive line even more scarier especially when you pair him alongside the quick Grady Jarrett, who posted three sacks in Super Bowl LI. Poe was promised to see a step back in game snaps during negotiations and that will save some wear on the massive defender, resulting in fresh legs for late game scenarios.

Both Derrick Shelby and Adrian Clayborn suffered key injuries last season at various points which made them spectators during the Super Bowl. But both also have important roles going forward as the Falcons have a tendency to slide defensive ends into the interior on pass rushing downs to provide a little more quickness closer to the quarterback. The two also showed flashes during the season of being relied on the create pressure.

Former Dallas Cowboy Jack Crawford fits that same formula as he was signed to a three-year deal this offseason. Late in the season, the team got a boost from 2014 draftee Ra’Shede Hageman. The scheme favors Hageman as it allows him to focus on gap penetration and attacking from the interior. All in all, there are enough ingredients here to make what was once an eyesore of a unit to one this is a concern to opposing coaches.

2017 outlook

Versatility. The first thing that comes to mind when speaking on the Falcons defensive line. The missed opportunity in the Super Bowl sparked Quinn and the front office to be aggressive this offseason, especially when it comes to the defensive line. Veterans such as Brooks Reed and Courtney Upshaw help fill out the group entirely and will give the unit more chess pieces to disrupt.

There is a clear emphasis within this group. That is to attack offensive lines with speed and athleticism (Beasley, McKinley), versatility and strength (Shelby, Clayborn, Crawford) and power with unique nimbleness (Jarrett, Poe, Hageman, Upshaw). Health is a factor here also and if all are relatively healthy, there is potential that this unit alone can be one of the more impressive groups in the league. On the result of the Falcons improving greatly as a defensive unit, the line may have great influence on that success.