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Falcons post-draft roster preview: Defensive line

This group looks so-so, but will get more attention down the line.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Falcons don’t have too much on their defensive line in 2021 to write home about, save for one big name.

What has long been thin as a church wafer looks like it’s a little fuller than in years past, but without a lot of proven experience in the red and black around. Some interesting acquisitions make you feel better about depth, but this is a bottom-heavy group with only one true star in its midst.

If you’d like more insight on some of our flexible pass rushers who are listed as outside linebackers, check out David Walker’s analysis on that position.

Starters:

DT Grady Jarrett

2020 Stats: 16 games, 4 sacks, 27 tackles

When you talk about the defensive line in Atlanta, you talk about Jarrett. The 2015 fifth-round steal and Conyers, Ga., native has been the Falcons’ best defensive lineman for a good while now, and you can expect that he’ll continue to position himself well in new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ scheme.

Some may question where Jarrett slots in on a 3-4 line, but any coordinator worth his snuff would know how to unleash the Clemson grad, no matter what defense he ran. In 2021, Jarrett will continue to be the fixture point of this unit and the player opposing coordinators have to worry about. He provides excellent play against the pass and has always been a sturdy run defender, despite his size. We’ll see how the new regime handles his contract, as he could be due for an extension soon.

DT Tyeler Davison

2020 Stats: 16 games, one-half sack, 15 tackles

Davison has been a pretty good, albeit not exciting, presence in Atlanta since signing in 2019, and he figures to play the main nose tackle role in Pees’ 3-4 scheme. While he doesn’t provide much value as a pass rusher, Davison makes his money defending the run.

The Falcons put a lot of value on defending the run this offseason, and redoing Davison’s contract shows that the team likes him, at least for this year, to play a role. He and new general manager Terry Fontenot go back to their shared New Orleans days.

DE Steven Means

2020 Stats: 16 games, 3 sacks, 21 tackles, 2 forced fumbles

A very underrated pass rusher, Means has cemented himself as the new Adrian Clayborn Lite, a player who often provides a pop when you need it most while not being amongst the premium guys at his position. He won’t wow you on the stats sheet, but Means has been much better over the last few years than some of the Falcons’ first-round pass rushers, if that means anything to you.

The team re-signed him after the first wave of free agency, and he figures to, at least for this year, play that same role again in Pees’ defense. He’s a reliable guy to have around in your defensive line rotation and provides starting potential.

DE John Cominsky

2020 Stats: 13 games, one sack, 14 tackles

If you’re looking for a guy who might be close to a breakout, it’s Cominsky. The 25-year-old D-II alum was the first from his school (Charleston) to be drafted this millenium, and he faced a steep learning curve when entering the league in 2019. Over the last two seasons, Cominsky has flashed the potential that earned him a fourth-round selection, but he’s not quite put it together enough to start.

That could change with Pees, though. It’ll be exciting to see how the new defensive coordinator uses him and if he can start to poke at his ceiling as he enters his junior campaign.

Key Reserves

DT Marlon Davidson

2020 Stats: 8 games active

Davidson, the big, 2020 second-round defensive end out of Auburn, has yet to really make much of an impact on the league. We don’t really know what his potential is since he’s yet to record a tackle, and he struggled with injury last fall. The old coaching staff either didn’t have him often last year due to health, but also didn’t use him very much when they did have him.

Our fearless leader Dave Choate feels that Davidson is due a bounceback year, and it’s hard not to be hopeful for him coming in and playing into a starting role. We’ll see how he does in his sophomore year, but it’s hard not to look at him as a fresh face ready to make an impact, even if he was here for a year.

DE Jonathan Bullard

2020 Stats: 6 games, 2 tackles

Bullard is a free agent pickup out of Seattle who didn’t play a ton last year for the Seahawks. In his five years in the league, he’s proven himself to be a rotational defensive lineman capable of scheme flexibility, which is what Pees’ new system calls for in number. Bullard will be another one of the team’s run defenders and might could get after the quarterback here and there (he’s got 3.5 career sacks).

DT Ta’Quon Graham

No 2020 stats

Graham is the team’s new defensive tackle out of the 2021 draft, and he figures to be a developmental guy who might be inactive on game days this year. It’s not that he won’t play, but the athletic former Texas Longhorn might benefit from hanging in the balance. We list him since he’s a draft pick, but we won’t expect much from him this fall unless the rookie’s development shows he’s ready for primetime.

DT Deadrin Senat

2020 stats: 5 games active

What about Senat? The 2018 third-round pick has been largely inactive for his three years as a Falcon and heads into a contract season. It’s been a bizarre journey for Senat, who has never been cut, but has barely played over the last two seasons after playing in 15 games his rookie season and recording 30 tackles. He’s not been awful when on the field but clearly fell out of favor in Dan Quinn’s defense. They held onto him, though, which must mean they saw some untapped potential. With a new staff in town, Senat will have to impress if he’s to make the roster. We’ll consider him a bubble candidate right now. Is he meant for more or will he wind up elsewhere before final rosters are complete?

Outlook

Outside of Jarrett, there aren’t a lot of potential Pro Bowlers on this positional list. Means is very useful and should be a good presence in the pass rush, and Davison’s run support and Cominsky’s potential give you hope they can be a decent-enough first four in the fight.

Davidson’s growth is paramount, as he should be getting starting reps by the end of the year if all goes right, and has the upside to be a great player. You can push your chips into the defensive line being a big area of investment next season and beyond, though, with Means, Bullard and Senat on expiring contracts and Davison a cut candidate for 2021. Jarrett will be the star again, but we’re hoping Davidson and Cominsky emerge and Graham can be a useful presence later.