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Early Bird Report: Grady Jarrett among NFL's most underappreciated players

During his time with the Falcons, Grady Jarrett has developed into one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. He was finally rewarded for his play in 2019 with his first trip to the Pro Bowl, and Jarrett's future looks bright.

Falcons fans don't need any explanation of just how good Jarrett is on a snap-by-snap basis, but he still isn't often in the same national conversation as some other top defensive tackles like Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox. Perhaps that's why NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund named Jarrett as the most underappreciated player on the Falcons' roster.


"Jarrett's ability to stop the run made him an extremely efficient member of the Falcons' defense, as he tied for the NFL lead with 20 run stuffs last season (per Next Gen Stats)," Frelund writes. "My spatial models show that his ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks ranked fifth (in pressure-rate percentage) among interior defenders."

Now an important leader both on and off the field for the Falcons, Jarrett will need to play a vital role for the defense if Atlanta is to make another trip to the postseason in 2020.

To see the rest of the NFC players who Frelund believes are underrated, click here.

Here are some other articles for Falcons fans to check out today: Elite pass-catchers from 2019 season

Calvin Ridley was on pace for his first 1,000-yard season before an abdominal injury ended his season with three games remaining. Prior to that injury, however, the second-year receiver was blossoming and forming a very potent duo for the Falcons opposite of Julio Jones.

No NFL fan needs a reminder of just how talented Jones is, but Ridley's ascension last season might have been a bit under the radar, nationally. Therefore, it's heartening to see him included in Nick Shook's piece about the league's top pass-catchers in the NFL in 2019.

Shook used a variety of metrics to create this list, but his defining stat appears to be "catch rate above expectation," which is simply the difference between a player's catch rate last season compared to his expected catch rate, calculated by Next Gen Stats.

In Ridley's case, he earned the fifth spot on Shook's list with a plus-8.7-percent difference between his actual catch rate and his expected catch rate. This put him ahead of players like Amari Cooper, George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders.

"A very intriguing detail in Ridley's line: In a receiving corps that features Julio Jones, Ridley saw double teams more often than anyone else in this group (at a rate of 5.4%)," Shook writes. "He also enjoyed a greater cushion than the rest at an average of 6.6 yards at time of snap. Aware of Ridley's 4.43 speed, teams rarely pressed him, instead content to cover him with numbers while also trying to keep his superstar teammate from destroying them. Matt Ryan will probably keep throwing to Ridley plenty, as the Atlanta quarterbacks compiled a 113.5 passer rating when targeting him. The Falcons will hope that produces more wins in 2020 than it did in 2019."

To see the rest of Shook's list of top pass-catchers from last season, click here.

ESPN: Alex Mack takes on virtual coaching role

This NFL offseason will likely expose those teams who have quality in-house leadership amongst its players and those who don't. Fortunately, the Falcons have players like Alex Mack who is capable of lending a helping hand to his fellow offensive linemen during these virtual classes. A six-time Pro Bowler, Mack is one of the smartest players on the Falcons' roster and a student of the game in every sense. With a lot of youth on Atlanta's offensive line, Mack's experience is crucial at times like this.

"I think it's just harder for the linemen to group up, whenever that's safe to do so, and work on the things that they need to work on," Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter said. "That's an easier thing to do at the appropriate time for quarterbacks and receivers than it is for O-linemen. But Alex as a leader in the meetings, like when I sit in on O-line meetings right now, to see Alex, that's what he's done in the NFL and the enthusiasm for which he approaches virtual meetings in May is impressive."

Vaughn McClure wrote in greater detail about Mack's involvement with the offensive line this offseason for ESPN, which you can read here. Dark horse NFL MVP candidates

Matt Ryan is already the most accomplished quarterback in franchise history. He took the Falcons to their second-ever Super Bowl; he has thrown for 51,186 yards with 321 touchdowns and 147 interceptions, and he is only Falcons player to ever win an NFL MVP Award.

That final superlative is why it's a bit funny to find Ryan on Adam Schein's list of dark-horse MVP candidates for, but he at least has some humor and is willing to admit such.

"OK, admittedly, this is the least-bold name on the list -- by far," Schein writes. "After all, Ryan already has an MVP under his belt.

"Still, the Ice Man never gets proper credit for being awesome. He's rarely brought up in conversations about the game's top signal-callers. And that's just wrong. Frankly, Ryan would be listed much higher on here if I felt more confident about the Falcons' defense or head coach, as this award is largely dependent on team success.

"But I think Ryan will put up monster numbers this season with the plethora of weapons he has at his disposal. Todd Gurley is a significant upgrade over Devonta Freeman. Julio Jones remains a force of nature. Calvin Ridley is a great No. 2. And trade acquisition Hayden Hurst gives Ryan a fine weapon up the seam. Get ready for some fireworks in Atlanta."

In his first season reuniting with offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Ryan led the league with 408 completions, and he threw for 4,466 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions despite missing one game. Throughout his career, Ryan has shown a tendency to take a step forward in his second season working with an offensive coordinator, and he once again has plenty of pieces around him to work with.

Schein might in fact be on to something here.

To see the rest of his list of dark-horse MVP candidates, click here.

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2020 Falcons Schedule

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ESPN: Falcons eye Bills, Dolphins joint practices

Falcons coach Dan Quinn spoke with the media on Tuesday, and among the topics discussed was the possibility of joint practices with both the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins. For now, things remain up in the air regarding when teams will be able to begin working together on the field, and the Falcons are not going to make any final decisions before hearing guidelines for return from the NFL.

"As far as the timing regarding doing some scrimmaging on some other teams, the two teams that we spoke to way back in the offseason were Miami and Buffalo," Quinn explained. "If those guidelines are in place that we are able to, we will. Obviously, if they're not, we won't. That's where we're at on those."

Under Quinn, the Falcons have not held joint practices with other teams, preferring to compete internally against themselves and touting an "iron sharpens iron" mentality. Earlier in the offseason, however, Quinn said he would be open to adjusting that approach and hinted that joint practices could be part of that altered approach.

"We want to pressure test more as often as we can," Quinn said. "If that includes a team they haven't done before as part of training camp, I'm willing to look at all things."

Vaughn McClure wrote a bit more about the Falcons' considering joint practices with the Bills and Dolphins, which you can read here.

The Ringer: The best remaining free agents

With the NFL Draft now in the rearview, most teams are focused on the group they have in place and preparing them for the upcoming season. There are, however, a number of high-profile free agents still left on the market, including players like Cam Newton, Everson Griffin and Jason Peters. In his piece for The Ringer, Danny Kelly listed one free agent – defensive end Michael Bennett – as a potential fit with the Falcons.

"The Falcons' edge rushing unit remains paper-thin even after signing Dante Fowler in free agency, and head coach Dan Quinn is familiar with Bennett from their time together in Seattle in 2013 and 2014," Kelly writes.

To see the rest of Kelly's list of top remaining NFL free agents, click here.

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