With the Atlanta Falcons enjoying a Week 8 bye, what better time is there to look back on the season and praise some of the team’s top performers? Well, actually a Week 9 bye week would’ve been a better time because that would be the halfway point of the season, but we’re making due with the hand we were dealt.
With long-term injuries suffered by Keanu Neal, Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen all within the first three weeks of the season, the defense has been a mess. However, it hasn’t been all bad as a few players have been holding it down on defense.
Today, we’ll name the team’s defensive MVP through the first seven weeks of the season, along with three players who deserve an honorable mention. Every single player featured in this article deserves a tip of the cap for his performance thus far.
Honorable Mention - Deadrin Senat
I know what you may be thinking — it’s insane to give an honorable mention shoutout to a rookie who has only played 177 total snaps through seven weeks, but that’s just a testament to how bad this defense has been.
Senat has looked incredibly solid on the interior of the defensive line, and has been one of only a handful of defensive players who have been presentable this season. Senat is Atlanta’s third-highest rated defender according to Pro Football Focus, and he has showcased himself enough in his limited work to prove that he’s worthy of becoming a starter, even at this early stage in his career.
Senat has proven to be a steal through his solid work in run defense (he’s second on the team with 10 run stops) and even flashes of pass rush which weren’t expected to be there for him just yet. It makes the selection of Calvin Ridley in the first round look even better, as the team covered its bases and successfully took their DT of need in round three.
Honorable Mention - Takkarist McKinley
Takk McKinley has provided the Falcons with the comfort of knowing that they have at least one pass rusher who will consistently produce (yes, that is a shot at Vic Beasley).
McKinley has contributed 5.5 sacks to the cause, and has looked the part of a first-round draft pick over the course of this season. He’s currently tied for 14th in the NFL in sacks, but remember that he also missed a game due to injury.
More than anything, Takk’s greatest contribution may be the ferocious nature with which he plays. Other players feed off of that (especially young guys). McKinley is only in his second year, but he’s growing into a leader on this defense; the importance of that can’t be overstated with how big of a void in defensive leadership opened up with the loss of Allen, Neal and Jones.
Honorable Mention - Grady Jarrett
Speaking of defensive leadership, Grady Jarrett has once again been spectacular this season.
Jarrett has quietly put together another incredibly strong campaign — Pro Football Focus grades him out as Atlanta’s best defensive player, and second best overall player with an 86.8 overall grade.
Despite missing two games due to injury, Jarrett leads the team with 15 run stops and four quarterback hits, while also registering his first two sacks of the season against the Giants in Week 6. Jarrett is arguably the most important player on this unit outside of Deion Jones, and that was showcased with just how bad the defense looked in his absence.
If not for the fact that he missed those two games, Jarrett would likely be the team’s defensive MVP at this point in the season, but for now he’ll have to settle for a strong honorable mention shoutout.
Defensive MVP Through Week 7 - Damontae Kazee
Kazee showed flashes of brilliance throughout the entire preseason. When he was called up to step in as the next man up following Ricardo Allen’s injury, he carried that brilliance over into the regular season.
Kazee has been a breath of fresh air in a season filled with smog. Pro Football Focus grades him out as the Falcons’ second-best defensive player, and his impact can’t be overstated. He’s allowed just 69 total receiving yards on 9.9 yards per catch, while allowing only a 53.8% opposing completion percentage while targeted. All of those marks are a team best among players who have played at least 150 coverage snaps this season.
Kazee has also grown into a certified ball-hawk, accounting for a team-best three interceptions (nobody else has more than one). The San Diego State product has proven to be a 5th-round steal and he has made the most of his opportunity as the next man up.