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The Falcoholic’s 2018 Falcons positional review: Defensive line

How did the defensive line fare this season?

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Arizona Cardinals v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As our positional review keeps moving along the merry lane, we’ve come to a bit of an awkward impasse with the roster.

The Falcons’ defensive line is one of the more maligned groups of the season, a group that just didn’t have enough firepower to begin with and didn’t use what they had very well.

We saw more Grady Jarrett dominance, a hot start for Takk McKinley, Jack Crawford and Deadrin Senat emerging, the curious case of Vic Beasley and a late-season surge for Bruce Irvin this year, which feels more electric in writing than it looked on the field.

Look, if we’re being honest, this was a very disappointing year for the defensive line, with Jarrett and Crawford the only guy we really can look at and say were among the league’s better players at the position.

Things can and will get better, but let’s look at the guys in question and see how they did.

DT Grady Jarrett

Stats: 52 tackles, six sacks

Jarrett, a pending free agent, is the crown jewel of this defensive line, an angry bulldozer with a sprinter’s agility, one of the best fifth-round picks of the decade and already the best defensive tackle to don a Falcons jersey since Jonathan Babineaux.

Unless the front office just actively wants to lose in 2019 and beyond, Jarrett will be back on a new extension this fall or on the franchise tag. He’s a foundation to this front seven and one of the best players on the team. His ability to both disrupt the pocket and make athletic plays on the run is part of this team’s lifeblood. Dan Quinn’s defense can’t work without Jarrett, and you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll continue to lead that charge for the many years to come.

DE Vic Beasley Jr.

Stats: 20 tackles, five sacks

Two years removed from his league-leading sack record, Beasley has struggled to recapture the magic that had him positioned as one of the budding stars at the position.

No one really knows what exactly has kept the former first-round pick from reclaiming his production, and we’ve found plenty of answers that could make sense. The bottom line for now is that he’s due $12 million dollars on a fifth-year option this fall, which feels highly unlikely a number to fall through at this point in time.

Beasley just doesn’t offer enough consistent play as things stand to justify paying him this much, and the last two years hint he may be more of a dangerous situational rusher and not an every down player. The team may want to hold onto him one or two more years, but that’d have to be on an extension. He played better in rotation, but he’s not a starter, at least not right now.

We’re all pulling for Beasley to put it all together again, but for now, his 2018 was a reaffirmation of how he’s regressed from the tantalizing potential we saw in 2016.

DE Takkarist McKinley

Stats: 22 tackles, seven sacks

McKinley’s sophomore year started out with the same fire and zeal we’d seen him flash in 2017, but things got shaky as time went on.

McKinley, like Beasley, has all the potential in the world, and still has his junior year to find consistency on the field. He’s a young player and still has plenty of room to grow into for his prime, and it seems like staying focused in games, no matter the situation, is an area the team would like to see McKinley improve with in the future.

He’s a powerful rusher with tenacity to spare, but he’s got to refine his game going forward. If he does, he really could be the team’s top pass rusher going forward. The junior season will be a key one for the former UCLA standout.

DT Jack Crawford

Stats: 35 tackles, six sacks

After missing a good chunk of 2017 with injury, Crawford exploded on the scene in 2018 and became the team’s second-best interior defensive lineman.

His quickness and ability to get after the quarterback from the inside were easily noticeable, and his development in Quinn’s system will prove vital as time goes on. The team needs all the pass rush it can get, so it’ll be fun to watch Crawford continue to grow there in 2019. He and Jarrett make for a fun team.

DE Bruce Irvin

Stats: 13 tackles, 3.5 sacks w/Falcons (eight games)

Irvin, a former Quinn/Seattle guy, came into Atlanta to help with the pass rush, and finished strong for the team in December. In a rotational role, it’s hard to ask for more than what he gave, so you have to hope the team asks him to return in the spring.

He can give the team some needed leadership and a dependable rotational rusher to make this group the best it can be. All great pass rushes have an Irvin ready to go in all moments.

DE Derrick Shelby

Stats: 10 tackles (seven games, IR)

Shelby did what Shelby has always done in 2018 before winding up on IR.

He’s a very good run stopping edge who just doesn’t provide a lot against the pass, which the team needs more of from its defensive edge group. He’s a free agent and you have to think the team will move on.

DT Deadrin Senat

Stats: 30 tackles

Senat has a quite promising future ahead of him, and did a very sound job his rookie season. He’s got the ability to factor in to the pass and run, and 30 tackles is nothing to shake your fist at with Senat a third round pick last April.

He’s someone we are just getting to know, so his development could be a crucial story line going ahead for the fall. The team needs some stability up front and Senat’s youth and talent should help him remain a piece of the puzzle.

DE Brooks Reed

Stats: 24 tackles, a sack

Reed has always been a dependable rotational rusher, but his 2018 left a lot to be desired. He’s decent-enough eight seasons in, but of course, has his ceiling. He’s due good money in the spring, which you wonder if will process through or if he’s due for a change of scenery.

The team might not want to have to replace too much up front, so it’s iffy if he returns. But it just didn’t feel like we heard a ton from Reed this past season. Maybe 2019 can be more prolific for him, but it feels like he’s phasing out of his time in Atlanta.

DE Steven Means

Stats: 14 tackles, one sack

A longtime preseason favorite, Means finally got his chance to show his talent in Atlanta, and he had a pretty good run with the Falcons. 14 tackles and a sack to help support the back of the edge group is nothing to be ashamed of, and you figure the team might like to have him back to see if he can continue to develop.

Means is probably not going to start in Atlanta or anything, but he could be a good young cog to plug in from time to time and aid the rush.

DT Terrell McClain

Stats: 17 tackles, a sack

McClain was thought to be the saving grace of a depleted defensive tackle group in May, but he could only do so much to help against the run. He never really found his footing in Atlanta, though he was back in a more-organic 4-3 front.

He doesn’t figure to return, though you wonder if this just wasn’t the right fit for either side this season.

DT Justin Zimmer

Stats: one game active

The book is still to be written on Zimmer, who was signed onto the roster later in the year after spending some time on the practice squad. He’s got a lot of athletic potential, so don’t be surprised if the team wants to further help him along to realize his potential.

You wonder just where he fits into the team’s plans going ahead, and if they’re expecting more from Zimmer in the future. We’ll know after we see what free agency and the draft bring.

The team also had DT Michael Bennett for a brief spell and DT Jacob Tuioti-Mariner on the practice squad. Both were signed to reserve/future contracts, so watch for them as time goes on.