As a man of faith, Grady Jarrett believes everything happens for a reason. He held this tenet when his family's house burned down on May 1 and, one day later, when he dropped to the fifth round of the NFL Draft.
Although falling to 137th overall wasn't ideal, it provided Jarrett with a number of intriguing opportunities. For one, he got to sign with his hometown Atlanta Falcons, where his father, Jessie Tuggle, carved out an illustrious career. He got to join an up-and-coming defense, too, one led by Dan Quinn and Bryan Cox, among others.
Jarrett is still in his first NFL season, but it's starting to look like everything worked out for the best. The rookie defensive tackle has begun to take on a substantial role in Atlanta—especially in the last two weeks, when he was one of the Falcons' most valuable defensive cogs.
"I thought Grady had one of his better games," Quinn said about Jarrett's performance against the Buccaneers. "I thought he was really physical at the line of scrimmage. ... He's somebody that's continually gotten better."
Jarrett on Sunday registered his first NFL sack against Tampa Bay's Jameis Winston: a five-yard loss that set up a 3rd and 19 situation at Atlanta's 43-yard line. Had Winston not eluded four would-be tacklers on the following play and scrambled for a first down, that sack could have made a tremendous difference in the final outcome.
"It was awesome, man," Jarrett said of his highlight. "I'm glad I got that sack so hopefully it can lead to more in the future with more opportunities. It was pretty cool for me."
Leading up to the draft, talent evaluators were split on how they felt about Jarrett. Some, including Sports Illustrated's Peter King, couldn't believe the Clemson product didn't get picked earlier; others, such as longtime Washington executive Charley Casserly, thought he fit the mold of a fifth-rounder.
Jarrett's detractors looked at his size and, for the most part, agreed that he didn't have the build to be a well-rounded athlete in the NFL. Those who disagreed argued his technique and ability to gain leverage would compensate for a lack of height. The tape, however, paints a clear image: Despite being significantly shorter than most opposing offensive linemen, Jarrett's technique, quickness, pure strength and effort have allowed him to become a genuinely useful part of the Falcons' defense.
Each of these attributes was on display versus Tampa—especially when tracking down running backs. In addition to bringing down Winston, the 6-foot-1 Jarrett did a great job on Sunday stopping the rush, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, he tallied five stops and earned a 2.1 run defense grade, tied for his highest mark of the year. Kroy Biermann is currently the only Falcon with a higher cumulative run defense grade.
You can see it all—the hand use, the leverage, the quickness, the effort—on the snap when Jarrett helped bring down Charles Sims for a one-yard gain.
"That's where I thought his best (work) was, in the run game," said Quinn. "I think the use of his hands—he was playing with really great leverage, and when you put those things in combination together, you're usually going to like the results."
Jarrett's capacity to chip in on all defensive situations from the one- and three-technique has made King and Atlanta's front office look quite good in the last few months. If he continues to develop at this rate, he'll prove he's someone who can enjoy a long, fruitful stay in the NFL.
And he'll make a lot of GMs wish they didn't let him fall into the Falcons' lap—even though, in Jarrett's mind, this is exactly how it was meant to be.