While the defensive line has not been a massive priority for upgrades—scheme and coaching changes have been bigger priorirites for this Falcons team, at least thus far—defensive tackle has gotten some attention. There’s a fourth round addition, a couple of useful free agents, and just an awful lot of dudes competing for a handful of of spots.
Let’s a take a closer look at where things stand after the draft.
Grady Jarrett is your slam dunk starter here. Jarrett will play more snaps than anyone else in this rotation and he’s one of the better young defensive tackles in football, so while his contract situation continues to make me uneasy, his play on the field is going to be one of the best things the Falcons have going on defense. I’m very excited for his 2019.
The Falcons will rotate a lot, so there’s likely to be more than one “starter,” to put quotation marks around it for little reason. I think you’ll see a lot of new signing Tyeler Davison on early downs, given his effective play against the run over the last few seasons in New Orleans. On third downs and in obvious passing situations, Jack Crawford should still be the guy, given that he’s coming off an effective campaign as a pass rusher and probably has more talent in that regard than any DT not named Jarrett who is currently on the roster.
This is a bit tricker to figure out with any accuracy, because the team could sign Allen Bailey and will almost certainly rotate guys in and out. That means the list here could be quite long. But let’s stick to the guys who are here and likely to make the roster, plus the ones on the bubble.
The most interesting man on the roster beyond the starters is definitely Deadrin Senat. The big, nimble defensive tackle flashed at times in his rookie season but was buried on gameday too often, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of him this year. His upside against the run is considerable, and his college tape suggested he could turn into at least a capable pass rushing option. He’ll have to fight through a lot of guys for snaps this year again, but Senat’s future is bright.
Ra’Shede Hageman, meanwhile, is a surprising return. Hageman has always had sky-high potential but rarely lived up to it with the Falcons, and that was before he found himself in legal trouble and suspended. He’ll still miss time at the beginning of the season, but if he’s turned the corner he could be at worst a valuable member of the rotation for Atlanta.
Beyond that, nobody’s a lock except for John Cominsky, who won’t play defensive tackle full-time but figures to be migrating there given the team’s comments to this point. Cominsky is an athletic marvel and may someday be a force of nature at the position, but he’s likely to play limited snaps this year, so I’m not penciling him in for a major role.
AND THAT’S NOT ALL! The Falcons also have the other Michael Bennett, a perfectly capable rotational guy who could still shove his way by Hageman, plus promising young athlete Justin Zimmer and practice squad stash Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. Every single one of those guys could be a capable enough fifth defensive tackle, but the Falcons are so loaded up with defensive tackles that Zimmer or Tuioti-Mariner are likely to top out as practice squad candidates.
Both from a talent perspective and from a numbers perspective, the Falcons are well-positioned to weather the 2019 season. Grady Jarrett is one of the league’s elite talents at the position and Crawford and Davison bring real strengths to the rotation. Add in Senat and either Hageman or Bennett and you’ve got a capable, deep group that can (but hopefully will not have to) endure injuries. There are plenty of other question marks on defense, but this isn’t likely to be one, and that’s a happy thought.