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Falcons training camp preview: Defensive tackle

With Falcons training camp just around the corner, we take a closer look at Atlanta’s defensive tackles. One of the deepest positions on defense, Grady Jarrett anchors a depth chart with a lot of potential.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Rookie Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp just around the corner, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. Now it’s time to discuss the Falcons defense, where we continue our look at the line with the defensive tackles. Anchored by a star in Grady Jarrett, the rest of the depth chart is actually pretty solid—there could be a lot of untapped potential in this group.

OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | C/G

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT

THE ESTABLISHED STARTERS: Grady Jarrett, Tyeler Davison

Grady Jarrett

6’0, 305 | RAS: 8.85 | 2020 Stats: 52 total tackles, 27 solo, 10.3% missed tackle rate, 8.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 30 total pressures, 80.2 overall PFF grade

The star of the show and arguably the best player on the Falcons defense since he was drafted in the fifth round all the way back in 2015, Grady Jarrett has been a dominant force in Atlanta. An undersized defensive tackle in a similar mold to Aaron Donald, Jarrett features some of the same traits: a lack of ideal height but an outstanding use of leverage, ridiculous strength for his size, and surprising athleticism. While he’s not in the conversation with Donald for the NFL’s best DT, he’s in the very next tier of players. Jarrett is dangerous against the run and pass, and can play multiple techniques on the line.

Tyeler Davison

6’2, 310 | RAS: 6.9 | 2020 Stats: 36 total tackles, 15 solo, 5.3% missed tackle rate, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 5 total pressures, 58.3 overall PFF grade

An expected cap casualty due to Atlanta’s desperate cap situation this offseason, the team was actually able to negotiate a pay cut with Davison in exchange for some additional guaranteed money. Davison has been the Falcons’ NT in base packages since joining the team in 2019, and has generally played the position at a solid to above-average level. He’s not built like a traditional 3-4 NT—which was fine in Dan Quinn’s defense, but may be more of an issue for Dean Pees. Still, with nearly all of Davison’s salary guaranteed in 2021, he’s a virtual roster lock and should reprise his role this season.

THE ROTATIONAL PLAYERS: John Cominsky, Marlon Davidson, Ta’Quon Graham

John Cominsky

6’5, 285 | RAS: 9.85 | 2020 Stats: 28 total tackles, 14 solo, 6.7% missed tackle rate, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 10 total pressures, 67.4 overall PFF grade

An elite athlete and tantalizing developmental prospect coming out of Charleston, the Falcons selected John Cominsky in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft with hopes that he could turn into a contributor on the defensive line. Thus far, the results have been encouraging: on just 398 snaps in 2020, Cominsky was arguably the team’s most productive rotational player. Cominsky is a bit of a tweener in terms of size, but he’s athletic enough to play both on the edge and the interior. He seems like a perfect fit for Dean Pees’ multiple fronts, and I’d expect him to get snaps in a variety of techniques—including as a stand-up rusher.

Marlon Davidson

6’3, 300 | RAS: 6.42 | 2020 Stats: 8 total tackles, 2 solo, 0% missed tackle rate, 2 total pressures, 58.1 overall PFF grade

Atlanta’s second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Marlon Davidson was an early fan favorite and was primed to have a significant role next to Grady Jarrett in his rookie season. Injuries and COVID limited Davidson to just 132 snaps in 2020, so he enters 2021 as a total wild card. His talent is undeniable and his long, athletic build would seem to make him a very good fit in Dean Pees’ multiple defense. Like Cominsky, Davidson is athletic enough to play on the edge or the interior—and in Davidson’s case, he actually played mostly EDGE in college. Davidson is in a strong position to have a bounce-back year, as he’ll see plentiful one-on-one opportunities next to Jarrett.

Ta’Quon Graham

6’3, 292 | RAS: 9.68 | 2020 Stats (College): 23 total tackles, 12 solo, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 82.5 overall PFF grade

One of the Falcons’ fifth-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Ta’Quon Graham actually looks a lot like the two previous DTs I’ve mentioned in Cominsky and Davidson. Graham is long (35” arms!), a bit of a tweener in terms of size, and an outstanding athlete (96th percentile, per RAS). Despite that athleticism, Graham was mostly a power rusher in college, where he lined up primarily at 3T. He’s clearly got the traits to become a more explosive, penetrating rusher, but needs to develop some additional moves at the pro level. Expect Graham to also play a versatile role in Dean Pees’ defense.

THE DEPTH COMPETITION: Jonathan Bullard, Zac Dawe, Deadrin Senat, Chris Slayton

Jonathan Bullard

6’3, 290 | RAS: 9.15 | 2020 Stats: 8 total tackles, 2 solo, 0% missed tackle rate, 2 total pressures, 56.5 overall PFF grade

With how poor the Falcons’ defensive line depth has been in recent years, it’s a little crazy to see an established, reliable veteran like Jonathan Bullard on the outside looking in for a roster spot. Bullard never quite lived up to expectations after being drafted in the third round back in 2016, but he’s been a solid rotational player who can line up as both a 4-3 DT and 3-4 DE. He’s the clear favorite to make the roster if the Falcons keep 6 DTs—which could happen, as technically players like Cominsky could be part-time EDGE players—but I have a hard time seeing Bullard displacing any of the players above him on this list.

Zac Dawe

6’3, 275 | RAS: 8.8 | 2020 Stats (College): 43 total tackles, 17 solo, 7.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks

Atlanta’s only UDFA addition at DT in 2021, Zac Dawe is a unique interior prospect who certainly seems to fit the mold of inside/outside players the team has been stockpiling. Dawe played a versatile role at BYU, where had a pretty productive senior season. He spent most of his time on the edge, but is listed at DT for the Falcons. That move makes a lot of sense, as he tested out as a below-average athlete at EDGE but a pretty good one at DT. He’s undersized for the interior, but could have potential if he can add weight. Dawe is competing for a practice squad spot this season, but has some tough competition.

Deadrin Senat

6’1, 305 | RAS: 3.79 | 2020 Stats: 4 total tackles, 2 solo, 0% missed tackle rate, 72.3 overall PFF grade

One of the biggest enigmas of the past several years, Deadrin Senat came to the Falcons in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft to much fanfare. A productive college player despite his lack of ideal size and athleticism, Senat was expected to play a rotational role on the defensive line. Instead, he appeared to be marked down as the reserve NT behind Tyeler Davison and was largely relegated to the inactive list.

On nearly 400 snaps in 2018, Senat was productive and encouraging. Since then, he’s played just 64 snaps over the last two seasons. Senat has always acquitted himself well on the field, but the team’s reluctance to play him is puzzling. Will he finally get a shot with a brand new coaching staff? It’s possible—but he’ll need to beat out all the guys in this category and have the team keep 6 DTs on the roster.

Chris Slayton

6’4, 307 | RAS: 7.58 | 2020 Stats: N/A

A late-round prospect I was a big fan of in the 2019 NFL Draft, Syracuse’s Chris Slayton was a versatile player who spent time at both NT and 3-4 DE. He was drafted by the Giants late in the 7th round, and he spent the 2019 season with the team before being cut prior to 2020. The Falcons picked him up for their practice squad, and he bounced back and forth on the roster a few times throughout the season.

He’s got great burst and strength, but had a distinct lack of pass rushing moves coming in to the NFL. If he can clean those issues up, Slayton has intriguing upside as a high-end run defender and solid pass rusher. He played closer to 320 in college—a more traditional NT weight—but slimmed down to 307 for the Combine. It’s unclear which role the Falcons have planned for him going forward.

THE BACKUP NT BATTLE: John Atkins, Olive Sagapolu

John Atkins

6’3, 320 | RAS: 1.33 | 2019* Stats: 20 total tackles, 13 solo, 9.1% missed tackle rate, 2 total pressures, 49.2 overall PFF grade

The Falcons are stuck with Tyeler Davison at NT for 2021—for better or worse—but they’ve been quietly adding developmental NT prospects since the conclusion of the draft. John Atkins is the definition of a traditional 3-4 NT: big, strong, and nasty. In terms of athleticism or pass rushing upside, there really isn’t much there. But if the team is looking for a pure run stuffer, Atkins has potential. He opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID, so he’s a bit of a question mark this year, but has a chance to stick on the practice squad as a potential long-term replacement for Davison in 2022 and beyond.

Olive Sagapolu

6’2, 331 | RAS: 4.41 | 2020 Stats: N/A

The second of the developmental NTs added by Atlanta this offseason, Olive Sagapolu has a bit less size but better overall athleticism. He joined the Packers as a UDFA following the 2019 NFL Draft before winding up on the Lions’ practice squad at the end of the season. He spent all of 2020 with Detroit but was not re-signed this offseason. Sagapolu has good movement ability for a NT at 330+, along with quality hand usage. However, he lacks length and height and struggled to use leverage consistently in college. I like his upside a bit more than Atkins, but he’s got less NFL experience and will have to prove himself in camp/preseason to win the backup job.