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Falcons rookie review: DL Ta’Quon Graham

Quietly, the rookie put together an encouraging campaign.

Atlanta Falcons v Buffalo Bills Photo by Kevin Hoffman/Getty Images

The Falcons wound up adding help at several key positions of need in the 2021 NFL Draft, though it was an open question how many of those players would actually see much time last year. As we now know, this rookie class played more snaps than any other class in the league, which means everybody not named Frank Darby got in on the action to some extent.

Ta’Quon Graham was no exception. The fifth rounder out of Texas was an interesting selection as a strong, versatile athlete who looked like he could be a quality run defender immediately and perhaps develop into something more with time. Emphasis on the athlete piece.

His rookie year up playing out exactly along those lines, with Graham settling into more playing time after being inactive from Week 7 to Week 9 and delivering consistently solid performances. He looked like, at worst, a quality piece for a Falcons team starved for quality rotational defensive linemen.

Let’s take a look back at his rookie season.

2021 Stats

13 games, 5 starts

15 combined tackles, 2 missed tackles

2 quarterback hits, 2 pressures, 1 hurry

47.3 Pro Football Focus grade

Rookie year highlights

Week 17 at Buffalo

Week 18 against New Orleans

Overall: Promising

This year was such a roller coaster and the defense was so consistently a liability that it was always going to be difficult for a rookie, part-time defensive lineman to stand out. Graham didn’t exactly knock anyone’s socks off, but hopefully you caught some glimpses of him doing the quality work he was consistently delivering by the end of the season.

Take the game against New Orleans, perhaps his finest effort of the year. In that loss, Graham showed all the qualities that make him an interesting long-term piece for the Falcons defense, including his strength, awareness and relentless motor.

The fact that Graham started to flourish with more playing time and more time in Dean Pees’ scheme in general is a good sign for his development. While he wasn’t regularly making big plays like you see in the clips above until very late in the year, he also rarely looked out of sorts or overmatched. Even if he sort of tops out as the kind of player he was in 2021—and I guess one lesson we’ve learned the hard way over the years is not to necessarily expect a huge leap—he’ll be useful for the Falcons.

There’s opportunity for more here. Mike Pennel, Jon Bullard and Anthony Rush are all free agents, Tyeler Davison is a virtual lock to be cut, and this team is going to need someone like Graham to step up even if they make major additions to the defensive line. If Graham does show up this spring looking improved, he’ll have a chance to grab a larger role, one helped by his ability to move around the line a little bit.

Graham will go into 2022 having recently turned 23 years old with what’s likely to be a similar role as he had toward the end of 2021, playing a third-to-half of the defensive snaps in a given game. I think his talent suggests he can do much more with that playing time than he did in an encouraging rookie season, and particularly if he takes a step forward as a pass rusher, he could become a de facto starter on a slowly retooling defensive line sooner than later. That’s more than I thought I’d be saying last April, and it’s a credit to Graham’s skill and progress that it feels like he has a prime opportunity heading into 2022.