Grady Jarrett has now played in Atlanta for eight seasons, and the Falcons have had a defense that ranks league average or better in yardage and points exactly twice. That has meant that Jarrett, the team’s most reliable run defender, a quality pass rusher, and one of the Falcons’ consistent leaders, has played on a lot of bad defenses.
That has been frustrating to watch for fans, but it has to be doubly frustrating for Jarrett, who is excellent every week on a defense that rarely can get the job done. It has led to a lot of double and even triple teams for him, and at the end of last year a player who always manages to find positives seemed genuinely beaten down.
The Falcons needed to do a lot this offseason to ensure they return to relevance after five straight losing seasons, but perhaps priority one was fielding a quality defense. To their credit, the Falcons have taken that charge seriously, adding a new defensive coordinator in Ryan Nielsen after Dean Pees retired and revamping their defensive coaching staff, adding safety Jessie Bates, defensive linemen David Onyemata, Calais Campbell, Joe Gaziano, and Eddie Goldman, linebacker and pass rusher Kaden Elliss, and cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Mike Hughes. That’s a significant investment, especially up front, and it appears the Falcons should make real strides just with the additional talent on hand.
As an added bonus, those additions have made Jarrett pretty happy.
Grady Jarrett was a guest at #ATLUTD training today. Asked him about the #Falcons offseason, which he's "super excited" about, including bolstering the DL, something he and Terry Fontenot "definitely talked about" addressing. He's stoked Calais Campbell & David Onyemata are here. pic.twitter.com/6P2GJPVDzN— Kelly Price (@thekellyprice) April 11, 2023
It’s a little early to say the Falcons are going to be a great defensive team, but they are a hell of a lot closer to giving us and Jarrett the kind of defense the ninth-year veteran has deserved to play on all these years. Gone are the days where teams can simply key on stopping Jarrett without worrying about who else is going to wreak havoc, which should give him the chance to have the kind of surface level stats (in particular sacks) that will get him the recognition he has long earned. If nothing else, additions like Onyemata and Campbell should make life easier for him, and improvement from Arnold Ebiketie to go with Elliss and potentially a rookie edge rusher should improve the play up front significantly. Add in a legitimately intriguing young secondary and we must just be cooking up something in Atlanta.
I’ll be thrilled if the Falcons can field a league average defense this year and over the moon if it’s better than that, obviously. I’ll also be happy for Jarrett, who has been the unsung hero of some very lousy defenses over the years and a franchise icon who decided to stick around despite that. With any luck, Jarrett will have a special season as part of a much-improved Falcons defense, and we’ll all get to enjoy our Sundays more than we’re used to.