The Falcons didn't do well enough on defense last year. The pass rush was around the quarterback but didn't bring him around enough. That, and a lackluster secondary, formed the league's worst pass defense.
The linebackers were solid, but it didn't change the need to overhaul the unit while building around some solid individual talent.
The Falcons have a new coordinator in Dean Pees, with veteran talent filling key roles up front and in the secondary.
The unit's led by elite defensive tackle and surefire captain Grady Jarrett, cornerback A.J. Terrell and linebacker Deion Jones. And, while the unit looks better than the 2020 version, it's time to go prove it starting Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
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There are plenty of questions surrounding this Falcons defense, which is why we're focusing on that unit in Wednesday's Bair Mail.
Brodie France from Castleton on Hudson, N.Y.
Hey there Bair,
You want defensive questions, I've got two for ya! Firstly, Grady Jarrett has been a beast for a few years now, with the addition of Pees hopefully dialing up more pressure from our DEs and maximizing Grady's potential, what do you think of his chances of earning 1st team All Pro? Personally, I think he's gonna eat well this year!
Secondly, who's your favorite Falcons defender, all time? Other than an obvious choice in Prime Time, some of my favs have been John Abraham, Keith Brooking, Deion Jones, DeAngelo Hall and the aforementioned Grady Jarrett!
Keep up the great work and hope you and yours are happy and healthy!
Bair: Brodie France. Great name. Like, Action star good. And appreciate the questions. Like 'em so much I'll get to both.
Making the All-Pro team is hard work. It's light years above the Pro Bowl in terms of prestige, with just two each on the first and second units. We already know one spot's essentially earmarked for Aaron Donald, but Jarrett's certainly capable of taking the other. Sacks are key to getting votes, even though the defensive tackle position is more about great film than massive numbers.
He could have a huge year, however, and has the talent and drive to reach such heights. I'm not making bold predictions, but he's capable or touching that vaulted ceiling.
On to your second question. I'm going old school here by saying I'm a Claude Humphrey guy. I have a painting of him up in my office. The man was a monster, a titan of his era. The fine folks a Pro Football Reference went back and tallied sacks for pass rushers working before 1982, when tackling quarterbacks for a loss became a stat.
Humphrey would've had 130. That's a lot. I wish more folks remembered his exploits. He was unstoppable in his prime.
Nathan Pruitt from Gainesville, Fla.
Hey Scott, Our Falcons have not had a 10 sack guy since Vic Beasley in the Super Bowl season, Who do you think can be that guy for the Falcons this year ? Side note- If you haven't made it out to "The Varsity" yet make sure you do so you can laugh at your friends back home and their love of In-N-Out burger!
Bair: It's bold prediction time: I think Dante Fowler hits 10 this season. He has great physical skill, could work in tandem with Jarrett at times and will be driven to produce after taking a substantial pay cut this offseason. He can reach double digits with a solid season and threats working next to him. I know that I'm more optimistic that those who sat through his uninspired 2020 snaps, but I've seen him at his best with the Rams. There's not reason he can't get back there again.
And, In-N-Out? Meh. But I've heard The Varsity is legit. Haven't been yet. That's a stop next time I'm in the area for sure.
Joe Faulkner from Salem, Va.
Isiah Oliver has been a liability in the DB sector. How is that going to change? Also, Can someone really light a fire under Marlon Davidson?
Bair: I know you guys don't dig Isaiah Oliver. I've seen the numbers from last year, especially when he worked on the outside. They were, well, not good. I agree that he needs to be good in the slot. The Falcons don't have tons of established depth there. I thought he wasn't half bad in training camp, and he needs to be serviceable on the inside or be exploited by the NFL's top quarterbacks.
Regarding Marlon Davidson, he doesn't need anyone to motivate him. That comes from inside. You can (and should) read about it right here.
Aarya Avant from Duncan, Ariz.
Should we expect to see players like Foye Oluokun and Mykal Walker breakout big this season, make a name for themselves amongst the higher graded LBs? Also, how much of Richie Grant do you think we'll see?
Bair: Let's address the linebackers first. Foye Oluokun was already highly regarded. That will expand under Pees, as a true coverage linebacker who can cover from others blitzing from the second level. And, if there's ever a year to blow up, this is it. He's set for free agency next offseason, so it's time to shine as a modern, quick linebacker teams are questing after these days.
Mykal Walker is still slate for a reserve role, but he'll play a decent amount and make hay when he does.
Richie Grant's contribution will first come on special teams. He's obviously behind starters Erik Harris and Duron Harmon, and he might be behind Jaylinn Hawkins. He has a strong finish to the preseason. As I said in a recent Bair Mail, I think he'll make a significant contribution at some point in 2021.
Call for Questions
This Bair Mail was all about defense. Friday's installment will focus on the offensive side. Submit your offensive questions to the mailbag right here.