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The evolution of the Falcons DT position, 2008-2018

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The story of the defensive tackle position is a story of quality and sometimes squandered talent.

Chicago Bears v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Overall, the Falcons have had far more talent at defensive tackle than defensive end over the years, and that talent has tended to produce at a higher level. The problem at the position has at times been the opposite of at DE, because Atlanta’s managed to snag quality players through all sorts of avenues, but they haven’t always had them healthy or prioritized keeping them around.

That’s an unfortunate story but one we’re all familiar with. The Falcons once had Jonathan Babineaux, Corey Peters, Vance Walker and Peria Jerry at the same time, but Jerry was an injury-riddled shell and the team let Peters and Walker hit the street. The team invested hugely in Paul Soliai, Tyson Jackson, and Ra’Shede Hageman, but seemed to have little clue how to get the most out of any of them and wound up letting them all go within a few years, though Hageman played a much more active role in his release than the others. And even in 2017, when a Jarrett/Dontari Poe/Jack Crawford trio would’ve been incredible, Crawford got hurt. The team has had bad luck and compounded it, essentially.

That said, this evolution is still fun to look at to see how much talent passed through Atlanta, and how lucky this team was and has been to have two guys like Babs and Jarrett over the last decade-plus.

Falcons DTs

Year DE1 DE2 DE3 DE4 DE5 DE6
Year DE1 DE2 DE3 DE4 DE5 DE6
2008 Jonathan Babineaux Grady Jackson Kindal Moorehead Jason Jefferson
2009 Jonathan Babineaux Thomas Johnson Vance Walker Trey Lewis Peria Jerry
2010 Jonathan Babineaux Corey Peters Peria Jerry Vance Walker Trey Lewis
2011 Jonathan Babineaux Corey Peters Peria Jerry Vance Walker Carlton Powell
2012 Jonathan Babineaux Vance Walker Peria Jerry Corey Peters Travian Robertson
2013 Jonathan Babineaux Peria Jerry Corey Peters Travian Robertson
2014 Jonathan Babineaux Corey Peters Tyson Jackson Paul Soliai Ra'Shede Hageman
2015 Jonathan Babineaux Tyson Jackson Ra'Shede Hageman Paul Soliai Grady Jarrett Joey Mbu
2016 Grady Jarrett Jonathan Babineaux Tyson Jackson Courtney Upshaw Ra'Shede Hageman
2017 Grady Jarrett Dontari Poe Ahtyba Rubin Jack Crawford Joe Vellano Tani Tupou
2018 Grady Jarrett Jack Crawford Terrell McClain Deadrin Senat Mike Bennett Justin Zimmer

What stands out when you look at this is just how reliable Jonathan Babineaux was, and the bright present and future of one Grady Jarrett. Babineaux played the fifth-most games in team history, and while he was rarely an elite player in terms of his production, he was an above average-to-great defensive tackle for the Falcons for more than a decade. Through all the turmoil and injuries that hit the position from 2008-2018, Babineaux was a consistent presence right up until the end of his career.

He gave way to a new top dog in Grady Jarrett, who is going to push hard to be considered the best DT in team history so long as he inks a new long-term deal. Jarrett is coming off the best season of his career and is still quite young, so it’s quite possible he’ll be in for the kind of historic run Babineaux managed for the Falcons, and it’s quite possible he’ll surpass the former veteran at some point, too.

While those two have been the top dogs for the last decade-plus, the rest of the depth chart has shifted. The Falcons drafted Peria Jerry to be a long-term solution at the position besides Babs, but his devastating injury derailed what might have otherwise been a solid-to-strong career. They snagged Corey Peters in the third round and he gave them several good years, but Mike Smith and company became obsessed with adding bulk to DT and they eventually eased him out and then moved on from him entirely. Vance Walker was drafted in the seventh round and showed well but frustratingly went on to have three quality seasons elsewhere after the Falcons failed to recognize what they had in him and let him walk post-2012. This was a consistent theme for the Falcons, and it led them into a brief period of disaster.

With widespread rumors indicating they were moving to a true 3-4 front, the Falcons in 2014 added Paul Soliai and Tyson Jackson and drafted Ra’Shede Hageman. The widespread assumption, again, was that the team was going to move wholesale to a different look in base sets, with Babs, Hageman, and Jackson playing end and Soliai manning the nose. The team refused to do so for reasons that weren’t entirely clear then and still largely remain unclear now, and while all three players had their moments, none of them turned out to be the answer. Soliai was cut, Jackson was cut, and Hageman was cut after a domestic violence incident that also earned him a suspension from the league. The team’s focus on beefy fellows wound up having repercussions into the Dan Quinn years.

Under Quinn, the team made one of the better moves in team history by landing Jarrett, got a reasonably-priced Jack Crawford and his strong 2018, and got Dontari Poe for one very productive, relatively cheap season. Heading into 2019, they’ve absolutely loaded up on faces old and new (including, somehow, Hageman again) in an effort to put together the kind of top-to-bottom stellar group that has largely eluded them under Thomas Dimitroff. For one year, at least, let’s hope all the stars align.