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What will the Falcons defensive line rotation look like going forward?

Atlanta may or may not trade Takk McKinley, but there are still decisions to be made.

Detroit Lions v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Falcons have a good problem along their defensive line. While they lack an elite presence outside of Grady Jarrett, they do have a lot of options, and they’re getting multiple options back in the next week or so.

That’s welcome because the Falcons have managed to adjust their philosophy a bit and start blitzing more, and the line is playing fairly well with the likes of Steven Means, Allen Bailey, and Dante Fowler Jr. paired with Jarrett. At the moment, it appears the Falcons will have a more healthy Marlon Davidson, a healthy John Cominsky, and Takk McKinley (if they don’t trade him) potentially available for Week 9,

That means the Falcons will have a lot of players vying for a limited number of snaps, and that’s with two players (Grady Jarrett and Dante Fowler Jr.) typically getting over 80% of the snaps on a weekly basis. With that in mind, how will the Falcons choose to deploy their personnel going forward?

It’s tough to say with confidence because the Falcons like to rotate so much and they’ve barely used Davidson, their 2020 second round pick and a player I have to think is featured if he’s healthy. Beyond Jarrett and Fowler, who are ensured huge roles no matter what, here’s what we’re thinking for each member of the defensive line rotation going forward.

DE Takk McKinley: Larger role if he’s still here

The Falcons have sent strong signals that they’re planning to move Takk if they get the right offer, with multiple reports in the recent weeks indicating that they’re actively shopping him. They also held him out of the Thursday night matchup against Carolina, a sign that a player who played 35% of the snaps the week before was being kept off the field to preserve his health.

If the Falcons find a taker, Takk will be a valuable rotational piece wherever he goes. If he stays in Atlanta, he’ll fill much the same role, but a healthy Takk is also a logical choice to get starter’s snaps (40% or more of the total defensive line snaps, let’s say) at defensive end, given that he’s looked good when he’s been on the field. His fortunes will remain cloudy until the trade deadline passes, either way.

DE/DT Steven Means: Reduced but major role

Means has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the injuries and COVID-19 cases piling up on the line. He got 19% of the snaps in Week 1, but after that he’s never dipped below 40% again.

As a well-rounded defender with some positional versatility who is capable of etting pressure occasionally, Means is an ideal chess piece for Raheem Morris and Jeff Ulbrich along the defensive front. That means he’s got a pretty significant role no matter what happens the rest of the way, but if Takk is traded it obviously opens up things for him to essentially function as a part-time starter the rest of the way. If Takk is here and healthy, I’d anticipate he will see a reduced role, but he should still be good for 30-40 snaps per game given how well he’s plugged in thus far.

DE Charles Harris: Growing role

The team has talked up Harris, and aside from his awful late hit on Teddy Bridgewater that got him chucked out of the game on Thursday night, he hasn’t disappointed as a pass rusher. The Falcons will want to get more out of the pass rush going forward and Harris is one of the few players who has consistently gotten any kind of pressure to this point. Particularly if Takk is gone, he should have no trouble pushing his way into an expanded role.

DE/DT Allen Bailey: Reduced role

Bailey has played fairly well the last few weeks as he’s finally gotten a larger role, but he’s someone who figures to see his role shrink going forward as everyone returns. Takk’s direct relief option is likely Means, and his opportunity to play in the middle dwindles if Cominsky and Davidson are healthy, as they appear to be heading into Week 9 against Denver. He’ll be a useful reserve—I’ve been happy to see him taking snaps away from Tyeler Davison, who is having a quiet year—but probably on something like 20-25 snaps per game.

DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner: Tiny role

Here’s a player who always seems to contribute when he’s on the field, but is going to fall victim to the numbers game. Even without Takk on the field in recent weeks, he’s played minimal defensive snaps and has primarily contributed on special teams. That probably won’t change anytime soon.

DT Marlon Davidson: Growing role

At some point, the Falcons need to see what their prized second round pick can do for them. Davidson has missed a good chunk of the year and hasn’t played a lot when he’s been on the field, so aside from the sky high upside he showed at Auburn, we don’t have a lot to go on. Davidson’s promise as a pass rusher and obvious strength should make him at least a significant piece of the defensive tackle rotation for Atlanta, and the team needs to see more of him ahead of next year, when he could well be a full-time starter.

DT John Cominsky: Similar role

Cominsky shows flashes of being a hard-to-contain presence at defensive tackle, but consistency has eluded him to this point. That said, he settled in to about 40-50% of the snaps this year when he was on the field, and the fact that he’s been a capable player and that he has legitimate upside makes me think he won’t see a huge dropoff the rest of the way.

DT Tyeler Davison: Reduced role

I don’t think Davison’s snap counts dwindling in recent weeks despite the loss of Cominsky and Davidson is a coincidence. Bailey and Means have stepped in to his role and done a solid job, by and large, and as Davison’s ideal role is chiefly just a run stopping presence, he probably won’t be more than a 20 snap player unless the team feels they have to lock in to stopping opposing backs.

DT Deadrin Senat: Virtually no role

It’s about time to call the Senat project done, at least until a new coaching staff arrives. Even with injuries he’s barely been able to get on the field and play, and that won’t change with everyone back.

What are your expectations for the rotation going forward?