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5 best Falcons defensive players of 2018: Grady Jarrett is No. 1

A once overlooked fifth round pick now wreaks havoc on opposing offensive lines.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2018 season mercifully in the rearview mirror, we can look back and reminisce as we wait for the NFL season to greet us once again in September.

Over the few past few weeks I’ve been counting down the five best offensive players of 2018 for the Falcons. This new series will do the same thing, but focus on what was the weaker side of the ball for the Birds this year — the defense.

Devastating injuries to start the campaign weren’t overcome, as Atlanta fielded a putrid 28th-ranked defense in the NFL. Still, even throughout the struggles, contributors stuck out from the crowd, and at least gave Atlanta a chance on the defensive end.

This will be a weekly countdown of the Falcons’ five best defensive players of 2018, going in order from fifth to first. You can find No. 5 here, No. 4 here, No. 3 here, and No. 2 here

Here is the second-best defensive player for the Atlanta Falcons from this past season.

1) Grady Jarrett

The list reaches its final stage with a feature on the big man in the middle of the defensive line. Grady Jarrett was unquestionably the best defensive player on this team in 2018, and he’s arguably the most important defensive piece Atlanta has (with all due respect to Deion Jones, of course).

With a 91.0 rating, Jarrett was the highest-graded player on Atlanta’s roster according to Pro Football Focus. That mark also made him the fifth-highest graded defensive lineman in the entire league (as you can guess, it’s Aaron Donald’s world and we’re all just living in it according to the 95.6 score he earned). If you limit the number of qualified candidates to those who played at least 400 snaps, then Jarrett checks in as the fourth-highest graded defensive lineman.

Jarrett’s run defense grade of 90.0 was elite, and his pass rush grade of 86.7 showcased the Clemson product as more than just a one-dimensional defensive tackle who can only stop the run. That ability to put pressure on the quarterback exponentially raises Jarrett’s ceiling, and value, as an NFL player.

Jarrett was third on the team with 6.0 sacks, and led the team in both QB hits (16) and hurries (36). His eight tackles for loss and three forced fumbles also led the team, while the 30 run stops he piled up were the second most on the team.

Jarrett statistically wreaked havoc against the interior of opposing offensive lines, and his numbers are even more impressive when you take into consideration the fact that he missed two games in the middle of the season. In those two games that he missed, the Falcons’ defense gave up a total of 63 points (and seven more were conceded via a turnover by the offense).

Even to this day, it still baffles me that Grady Jarrett fell all the way to the fifth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He had a second-round grade but teams were apparently scared off due to his height. The Falcons were incredibly lucky to be able to take him where they did, and they’ve been reaping the rewards ever since.

We go into 2019 with Jarrett serving as the team’s best defensive player. As of this writing, he’s still under the franchise tag but hopefully the team will be able to work out a longterm extension with Grady before the start of the season.