Grady Jarrett has established himself as one of the best penetrating interior defensive linemen since entering the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, but he's taken his game to an entirely different level this season.
The Falcons' overall defensive struggles have made it easy to gloss over the performance of Jarrett, especially if one does not pay close attention to the line of scrimmage. Yet the fifth-year defensive tackle isn't just one of the best players on the Falcons, he's been one of the best defenders in the entire league.
Pro Football Focus currently has Jarrett listed as the fifth-best interior defender in the NFL through the first 13 weeks, giving him an elite grade of 89.0, making him the highest-graded player on the Falcons.
According to Next Gen Stats, Jarrett' 17 run stuffs are the most by any player in the league this season. Run stuffs are defined as tackles on a run play that result in no gain or a loss of yardage. That stat highlights something that has been noticeable to those watching games this season: Jarrett has been an absolute monster against the run.
"He is as difficult to block as there is," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "It is the ability of his quickness and his instincts – he has great strength to him – and is definitely somebody that has kept improving but has taken their game to a new space."
This season, Jarrett has recorded 55 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, eight tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles. That puts him on pace for career-best numbers in every category except tackles for loss, which is remarkable considering the number of double teams he's faced this season.
Despite weighing 305 pounds, Jarrett has always displayed explosiveness and quickness that is rare for someone his size. That's often been shown when rushing the passer, but he's increasingly becoming more consistent in defeating blocks on run plays. Jarrett has 40 stops this season, per Next Gen Stats, which are plays that are considered a win for the defense relative to the situation they are in. Among all defensive tackles, only Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers has more.
These aren't just empty stats for Jarrett, either. On Thanksgiving night against the New Orleans Saints, Jarrett made impact plays at important times.
With the Saints backed up against the goal line, Jarrett knifed through the offensive line to drop Latavius Murray for a 1-yard gain and keep New Orleans pinned at its own end zone.
Early in the second quarter, Jarrett slipped between a double team and stopped Alvin Kamara for no gain on a third-and-2. On their ensuing drive, the Falcons scored their first touchdown of the game and Jarrett forcing the Saints' offense off the field helped allow them to do so.
"Grady Jarrett had one of the more impressive performances in run defense that you'll see all season," Pro Football Focus noted. "It was tough for anybody on Atlanta's defense to get things going as a pass rusher, but Jarrett asserted himself in run defense all night long. Jarrett was consistently able to get into the backfield to disrupt the Saints' running attack, and he found success when matched up against a variety of New Orleans' blockers."
It's not uncommon to see a player elevate their game in the final year of a contract to try and increase their leverage when negotiating a new one, but Jarrett signed a four-year contract extension over the offseason. Jarrett's motivation has not waned one bit with the new job security, however, which is a testament to his work ethic and professionalism.
After signing his contract Jarrett sat down with 92.9 The Game and explained that he was more motivated than ever, which is what would be the expected thing for most players to say in that situation. The key difference is that Jarrett has backed up the talk on the field.
Despite his success to this point of his career, Jarrett has never been named to the Pro Bowl. That's partly understandable given the level of talent at the defensive tackle position in the NFC, but it's beginning to become more indefensible with the way Jarrett has played in recent seasons.
With 2019 shaping up to be his best season yet, Jarrett has done more than enough to warrant that kind of national attention.