For the first time in what seems like an eternity, the Falcons have a lot of talent on the defensive line. Atlanta may not have the star power of some of the league’s premier units, but they’ve got depth everywhere and a lot of promising young players. The Falcons are staring at a situation where several impressive edge rushers and defensive tackles may not make the roster.
Austin Larkin and Durrant Miles have both made strong cases for the roster at EDGE, but it’ll be very difficult for Atlanta to keep either of them. The same is true at DT, with Justin Zimmer, Ra’Shede Hageman, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner all showing flashes of potential. None of those DTs, however, have been more impressive than 2018 third-round pick Deadrin Senat.
Senat has had a very strong preseason heading into 2019 after an encouraging rookie campaign. He’s piled up 10 total tackles (5 solo), 1 TFL, 1.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in four preseason games, and was the Falcons’ highest graded defender against Washington according to PFF.
Despite his impressive production (and strong play according to the eye test), the Falcons have continued to list Senat behind second-year UDFA Justin Zimmer on the depth chart. This isn’t a new phenomena for Senat either: in 2018, Senat soundly outplayed veteran DT Terrell McClain on the field, but was made a gameday inactive in favor of McClain far too many times. You don’t need me to remind you how bad McClain was, folks.
So, why does Senat continue to be disrespected by the coaching staff? Theories abound, including accusations that Senat might be taking plays off at practice or that he’s somehow earned the ire of the coaching staff. It’s impossible for us as outsiders to know the truth, but we do know that something other than on-field ability is causing Senat to tumble down the depth chart.
According to my most recent roster projection, I have the Falcons keeping four DTs (and Hageman for the first two weeks, as he won’t count against the 53-man roster):
The Falcons also have two EDGE players who will split time at DT in Adrian Clayborn and Allen Bailey, which reduces the need to carry additional interior players. According to the Falcons’ depth chart, however, it would seem that Justin Zimmer is ahead of Senat in this race.
Before we jump into anything else, let me just say that I like Zimmer. If the Falcons chose to keep 5 DTs, he’d be in that final spot with no questions asked. But regardless of how much I appreciate Zimmer and his athletic talents, Deadrin Senat is the superior player on the field—and he deserves more respect.
All Senat has done when given opportunities with the starters is play well—and he’s looked dominant at times against opponents’ depth players. He’s never likely to be an elite pass rusher due to his lack of high-end athletic traits, but his technical ability and understanding of leverage make him a quality NT and serviceable rusher in a pinch. The Falcons have a very good NT in Tyeler Davison, who they added in free agency, but that doesn’t mean they should move on from Senat. Injuries happen, and with Atlanta trotting out more 3-4 looks, there are even more opportunities for run-stuffing DTs to play 3T.
To those that question his worth ethic, what about Ra’Shede Hageman? The Falcons trotted out Hageman week after week despite criticizing him often for his practice habits and watching his inconsistent play on game days. So if that’s the issue with Senat, why the difference in response?
I have a sneaking suspicion that the Falcons may value the raw athletic ability of Justin Zimmer (and, in a similar way, Ra’Shede Hageman) very highly. That certainly fits in with their draft and player evaluation strategy—look at the selections of John Cominsky and Kendall Sheffield in the 2019 draft. But this team decided that Deadrin Senat, with his skills and athletic traits, was worth a third-round selection. Are they really willing to push him out the door to make room for a UDFA, especially when he’s been playing well?
The answer should obviously be no, but we’ll have to see what happens at final cuts. I’m sure of one thing: moving on from Senat to keep Zimmer would be extremely foolish, and would make Senat arguably the biggest draft bust of Dimitroff and Quinn’s tenure. I just can’t see that happening, but I’ve been shocked by this team before. At the end of the day, if you value Justin Zimmer that highly you have to find a way to keep him and make a cut elsewhere—just don’t sacrifice a young, promising player that you’ve invested a Day 2 pick into to do it.
Oh, and put some respect on Deadrin Senat’s game. His play on the field has proven that he deserves it.