The Falcons exited the 2022 season with a defensive line in shambles, and a defensive front that was not among the league’s best. Injuries and surprise retirements led to the team playing without Vincent Taylor, Eddie Goldman, Ta’Quon Graham, and others, and by the end it was summer and in-season pickups and Grady Jarrett getting the job done.
The need for improvement was clear, especially with the Falcons talking about upgrading weaknesses and trying to spread the wealth when it came to their cap space. The Falcons still need to add more pass rushing help in the draft and in the tail end of free agency, but the difference between the line they’re set to trot out in Week 1 versus the one they sent out there in Week 17 is staggering.
End of 2022 season DL: Jarrett, Abdullah Anderson, Timmy Horne, Jalen Dalton, Matt Dickerson, Jaleel Johnson— The Falcoholic (@TheFalcoholic) March 29, 2023
Now: Jarrett, Onyemata, Campbell, Ta'Quon Graham, Eddie Goldman, Joe Gaziano, Dalton, Horne
No guarantees of greatness but man is that night and day
Jarrett is the linchpin of this line as he always is, but as hard as Anderson and Horne played last year, their ability and production obviously pales in comparison to Onyemata and Campbell. If Graham improves in his third season and Goldman can offer anything, this line has a potent collection of beefy pass rushers, and the run defense should significantly improve as well. The Falcons accomplished this not by handing out one mega-deal to the best defensive tackle on the market, but by signing three players and luring one out of retirement, effectively remaking the line. Horne and Dalton were solid players a year ago and they’re now buried on the depth chart, a sign of how far Atlanta’s come in a very short time.
The front should be further improved by the addition of Kaden Elliss, who is coming off a proficient season as a pass rusher, and the odds that players like Arnold Ebiketie and Troy Andersen take steps forward after deeply uneven rookie seasons. The Falcons still need more pass rushing punch off the edge even if Elliss is great and Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone are much better, but there’s a baseline level of play here that simply didn’t and couldn’t exist a year ago.
As I noted yesterday on Twitter, the entire Falcons team had 21 sacks in 2022, while Onyemata, Campbell, and Elliss combined for 17.5 all on their own. This team has added bulk and power, solid run stopping, and plenty of pass rush ability to a defensive front that was a sieve late last year, and they already had the great Grady Jarrett and a promising young defensive lineman in Ta’Quon Graham to build around. It’s nothing short of a transformation, one that’s likely not yet complete, and it bodes well for their chances of breaking a long streak of pass rushing and more general defensive shakiness.