Falcons training camp positional preview: Will D-line depth emerge from within? – The Athletic

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — The Atlanta Falcons added three new pass rushers in the offseason, and they brought in a former Pro Bowler in the secondary.
So where’s the help for the defensive line? Unless Atlanta makes a late move to bolster the position through free agency or via trade, it’s going to have to come from within, and that’s not a comforting thought for a team that was 29th in defensive rush success percentage (56.8) in 2021.
The key for the Falcons barring a late move will be the development of young linemen like Marlon Davidson and Ta’Quon Graham and the return to form of veteran Grady Jarrett. So today we take an in-depth look at what Atlanta has up front heading into training camp. In order to keep our offseason positional breakdowns manageable, we’re going to include only the players projected here to make the 53-man roster.
Grady Jarrett, 6-foot, 305 pounds
Jarrett’s dip in production in his first year under defensive coordinator Dean Pees raised some eyebrows around the NFL, but nobody associated with Atlanta blinked. In fact, the Falcons reworked Jarrett’s contract in the offseason, giving him a three-year contract extension that could be worth more than $50 million.
There are three reasons why Atlanta still is in love with Jarrett. No. 1, his numbers were bound to go down in Pees’ system, which calls for a less-attacking style from the defensive linemen than the defensive system run by the previous coaching staff. No. 2, the coaching staff is hopeful his work ethic will rub off on other members of the team. No. 3, they know he needs more help than he got a year ago.
Jarrett finished last season with one sack (his fewest since his rookie season), three tackles for loss (the fewest of his career) and 12 quarterback hits (his fewest in six seasons.) If his production is going to bounce back, it will likely depend on the following names on this list.
Marlon Davidson, 6-3, 278 pounds
Where’s that Richie Grant energy when it comes to Davidson? A segment of Falcons fans was falling over themselves last season to form a line calling Grant, a safety taken with the 40th pick in the 2021 draft, a bust, but very few people were calling out Davidson, the 47th pick of the 2020 draft, despite the fact that he hasn’t had much more impact on the team than Grant.
Davidson, who has started one game in two professional seasons, had 21 tackles in 11 games played last season. He needs to take a big step forward this season, and it looks like he’ll have plenty of opportunity because the Falcons did not bring back Tyeler Davison or Jonathan Bullard, both of whom started multiple games up front in 2021, this season.
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Davidson flashed game-wrecking skills at Auburn from 2016-2019. In his senior season, he had 6.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. The Falcons need to start seeing some of that burst again and soon.
Ta’Quon Graham, 6-4, 294 pounds
Here’s the question about Graham: Did the 2021 fifth-round pick start five games as a rookie because he’s ahead of schedule or did he start five games as a rookie simply because the Falcons didn’t have any better options? The answer to that question figures to come this season.
It’s encouraging for Atlanta that Graham had his best game of the season (four tackles, including one TFL) in the season finale against New Orleans.
Anthony Rush, 6-4, 361 pounds
When Pees needed to stop the bleeding in Atlanta’s run defense midway through last season, he did the sensible thing. He called up the 361-pound Rush from the practice squad and stuck him in the middle of the defensive line. It worked well enough that Rush started five of the final 10 games of the season. Rush, who joined the league as an undrafted free agent in 2019, fills a need in Pees’ defense, a monster who can handle two gaps in the middle of the line.
Vincent Taylor, 6-3, 311 pounds
The Falcons need another big man in the middle to rotate with Rush, and Taylor could be the guy. A UDFA in 2017, he has been with four teams in the last three years. That experience may give him an advantage over a player like Timothy Horne, a 321-pound rookie who was signed as a UDFA out of Kansas State this season.
Derrick Tangelo, 6-1, 296 pounds
The cousin of former Falcon Prince Shembo, Tangelo was signed as a UDFA this year out of Penn State but spent most of his collegiate career at Duke. He showed enough big play flashes in college (17.5 tackles for loss and six forced fumbles) that he’ll be a player to watch in training camp and a guy who could hold off competition from the similarly unknown defensive linemen Atlanta added in the offseason.
(Top photo of Grady Jarrett: Rich Barnes/ USA Today Sports)

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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