The Falcoholic’s 2018 post-draft roster preview rolls ever onward, and today’s edition brings us a closer look at the defensive tackle position. Widely viewed as the weakest position on the roster heading into the draft, the Falcons curiously waited until the third round to add talent to the position with USF’s Deadrin Senat. They also added another free agent to the mix in Terrell McClain, who was recently released by Washington.
Let’s take a closer look at the depth chart at DT after the conclusion of the 2018 NFL Draft.
2017 Production: 34 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 1 FR
One of the young stars of the NFL at the defensive tackle position, Grady Jarrett is a tremendous and versatile talent. Jarrett can man either the 1T or 3T effectively, and he’s a strong pass rusher and run defender. He’s also shown the ability to play a ton of snaps over the first few years of his career, and continued to produce at a high level. Hopefully, with the injection of talent the Falcons have added along the defensive line, Jarrett can play a few less snaps in the base defense—saving most of his energy for pass rushing situations.
2017 Production: 17 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 FR
McClain has had an up-and-down career since entering the NFL as a third round draft choice of the Carolina Panthers in 2011. Since then, he’s bounced around to several teams, but had his first taste of real success with Dallas from 2014-2016. McClain is a talented run stuffer that was most effective playing 1T in a 4-3 scheme. The Falcons clearly think he can be more than that, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play 3T in the base package—similar to what Dontari Poe did in 2017. He’s strong and has a relentless motor, but he’s never quite put it together as a pass rusher.
2017 Production: 3 tackles
Crawford, a free agent addition from the 2017 offseason, was brought in as another “hybrid” player in the Adrian Clayborn mold. He can rush the passer well from the interior, but plays EDGE in the base package. Crawford looked pretty good in rotational action before suffering a season-ending injury in October. He’ll be the primary pass rushing DT next to Grady Jarrett in nickel sets, and there’s also a chance that he could contribute on the edge at times. It’s unclear just how effective he’ll be in that role, but the Falcons seemingly have a high degree of trust in him.
2017 Production: 66 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks (college)
The Falcons’ third round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, Deadrin Senat is a powerful, technically proficient nose tackle that lacks ideal height for the position. What he lacks in size, he makes up for with strength and a high motor style of play. He’s a very good run defender and possesses solid burst off the line to cause disruption in the passing game. Senat is never going to be a huge factor as a pass rusher, but he should be a well-rounded and versatile option in the base package at the 1T.
UDFAs and others: Jon Cunningham, Joey Ivie, Garrison Smith, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Justin Zimmer
The Falcons brought in quite a few veterans and UDFAs to compete for roster and practice squad spots, but all of these players have an uphill battle to make the roster. Jon Cunningham was a fantastic run defender in college, and could be one of the best UDFAs that Atlanta brought in—I think he’s got a good shot at making the practice squad. Joey Ivie is a player that stuck around from last year’s practice squad—he’s got a high motor and some interesting athletic traits, but hasn’t been able to show enough to make a roster.
Garrison Smith was a reserve DT for the Seahawks from 2016-17—he’s a passable depth player, but has only played in 11 games in his 5 year NFL career. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner is another possible “hybrid” DE/DT player that the Falcons brought in as a UDFA, but he’s small and isn’t a particularly good athlete. Justin Zimmer is a tremendous athlete that simply couldn’t make a roster last year—perhaps Quinn can find a way to unlock his potential.
The Falcons’ DT depth chart still looks a little thin and untested, but it’s undoubtedly stronger than it was before the 2018 NFL Draft. Grady Jarrett is awesome, Terrell McClain should be a solid player at worst, and the team has two talented young players in Jack Crawford and rookie Deadrin Senat. I’m not sure what Atlanta will get out of Crawford and Senat in 2018, but I’m hopeful that it’ll be enough to help the defense continue to improve.
The UDFA and low-level veteran crop that the Falcons brought in has a few interesting names, as well. Cunningham might be the best of the bunch, and I think he’ll push for a roster or practice squad spot. Zimmer is a freakish athlete that simply hasn’t put it together yet, but he’s got serious potential. Garrison Smith is probably the fall-back or injury insurance option—he’s solid but uninspiring.
Overall, the team is in decent shape at DT. It’s probably the weakest position on defense at this point. When the rest of your roster is absolutely stacked, however, that isn’t necessarily an indictment of the talent level.
What are your thoughts on the state of the DT rotation heading into training camp? Are you comfortable with the top-4 that the Falcons have at this point? Do any of the UDFAs or camp veterans stand out to you?