Every one of us has a player or two we have unreasonably high hopes for, hopes that persist even in the face of injuries, disappointing years and (in the case of me and Glenn Dorsey) even retirement. Sometimes that investment pays off in a major way—those stubborn 2005 and 2006 Roddy White fans can crow forever, as far as I’m concerned—and other times we’re left holding little more than a bag of disappointment.
In the case of Marlon Davidson, my expectations would not seem to be justified based on a quiet, injury-marred rookie season. When you look at Davidson’s potential, his path to a role in this Falcons defense and his health in training camp, though, I don’t think I have unreasonably high hopes at all.
Davidson was my favorite pick of the 2020 NFL Draft for Atlanta, and while A.J. Terrell was the team’s best selection in 2020 and may well prove to be the best player from the class 10 years down the line, Davidson’s talent is evident. As I argued back in May, Davidson is one of the players best poised to take a major step forward in 2021 given how little he got to play a year ago, and he’s starting off training camp on exactly the right foot. If you don’t believe me, please consult noted defensive tackle expert Grady Jarrett.
Asked Grady Jarrett about Marlon: "He looked good, man. He’s finally healthy. He looked quick out there in one-on-ones. Marlon, he’s that fireball of the defensive line... He makes it fun for us. I love playing with him. I can’t wait to see him get that full season under him." https://t.co/RBPGiTWjtK— Tori McElhaney (@tori_mcelhaney) July 29, 2021
I started writing this Saturday before I knew Scott Bair would be publishing an excellent interview with Davidson today at AtlantaFalcons.com, in which the second-year defensive tackle refuses to blame injuries and COVID-19 for his quiet rookie season and flat out promises a better Marlon Davidson this season. These preseason profiles don’t guarantee that kind of success, of course, but Davidson’s evident motivation, ability to pinpoint where last year went wrong and impressive early showing in camp paints a good picture.
“I went through some mental stuff getting my mind prepared, and it took a toll. But that was last year. Last year’s gone. This is 2021. It’s going to be a better year. That’s a promise.”
The Falcons have often struggled to complement their truly great players on the defensive line with other great players, from the days of John Abraham and Jon Babineaux toiling with a rotating collection of one-year wonders, never-weres and lunchpail guys to Grady Jarrett’s current lonely elite play. What’s at stake here isn’t just giving him help, though, but having the foundation of a truly great defensive line, something that Jarrett being elite and Davidson being excellent would provide even as the team sorts through a heap of rotational players on the rest of the roster. Jarrett is in line for an extension and Davidson is just entering year two of his NFL career, meaning the duo could be together for 3-5 seasons wreaking havoc on opposing offensive lines. That’s something to daydream about.
For now, I’ll just continue to eat up these camp reports and buy stock in Davidson and Terrell (who deserves his own article later this week). My confidence level for the defense overall is still fairly low, but those two are primed for breakout years and that should make an evident difference for a Falcons team trying to find more success in 2021.