The Falcons run game was a crucial part of creating the No. 1 scoring offense in 2016. Here are a few of our favorite shots of running backs Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and Terron Ward.
Last June, Grady Jarrett told AtlantaFalcons.com he wanted to become a master of his craft. His objective, he said, was to become an every-down defensive tackle, one who could succeed in base 4-3 and nickel packages.
The 2015 draft pick took a big step toward his ultimate goal last season.
As they worked their way to Houston, the Falcons utilized Jarrett in most situations, as he played 762 defensive snaps. He continued to be stout against the run, and he developed as a pass rusher, too – as evident by his three sacks in SBLI, tied for the most in Super Bowl history.
That progress has made him a popular breakout candidate in 2017. And, based on one of his latest tweets, Jarrett appears set on taking that next step.
Jarrett finished the 2016 regular season with 48 tackles, exactly twice as many as his rookie campaign, and three sacks. His 18 stops against the run were the 16th-most among interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, tied with Tampa star Gerald and one behind Philadelphia's Fletcher Cox.
Jarrett also recorded nine QB hits and 34 QB pressures, good for ninth and 10th at his position, respectively.
"Grady Jarrett has been understandably for us a leader and has really emerged," head coach Dan Quinn said in January. "We saw those traits in him when we drafted him. It certainly was that way for him coming out of Clemson. We knew early on, even though he was a rookie he had some of the right stuff to develop into a leader. As he's [finished up] his second year here, that grew even stronger and stronger."
That growth was evident as the year wore on. In Atlanta's last seven games before the playoffs, Jarrett matched his tackle total from 2015 (24). Additionally, he earned 13 total pressures in the playoffs – five more than any other DT. The only NFL player with more pressures during the postseason was Dwight Freeney, per PFF.
"We looked at him at him as a versatile D-lineman who, though he was not the biggest guy or the tallest guy, he had the versatility for us to shoot the gaps and play an element of the run -- which he can do -- and also continue to give us some pass rush," general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.
"Too often, interior guys don't give you the pass rush he has. But he has the ability to slice through the gap, and he's got a short-area quick burst that was very impressive for us. We expected him to come in and have an element of rush ability from the inside."
Along with another year of experience under his belt, Jarrett stands to benefit from Atlanta's biggest free agent acquisition – figuratively and literally – in Dontari Poe. The mammoth defensive tackle will likely spend a lot of time lined up next to Jarrett in 2017, and in the process, he could take on plenty of double teams, opening up space for Jarrett (and others) to maneuver.
"That's awesome," Jarrett told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Poe signing. "That makes us a better team and a better defensive line. It will be good to definitely have him on board.
"It's definitely an exciting time for us, getting new guys to come and join our team. We want to get better as a unit. We need to improve. I'm looking forward to working to the new guys."