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Examining the Falcons' defensive line unit heading into 2018 offseason

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- With free agency and the 2018 NFL Draft coming up, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn will spend the next couple of months assessing and evaluating their current roster.

The Falcons are in a good place with the majority of their starters on both sides of the ball locked into deals that will have them back in Atlanta for the upcoming season.

With that being said, Dimitroff and Quinn will never stop looking for ways to continue to improve their roster.

One area Quinn and Dimitroff place significant emphasis on year in and out is in the trenches.

"We're going to look at both fronts as we always do every year, and that's important to continue to build," Dimitroff said during he and Quinn's season-ending press conference.

So let's take a closer look at the status of Atlanta's defensive line group that featured the following players in 2017:

Adrian Clayborn

Grady Jarrett

Takk McKinley

Dontari Poe

Brooks Reed

Ahtyba Rubin

Derrick Shelby

Jack Crawford (placed on IR)

Courtney Upshaw

The biggest change from 2016 to 2017 at this position was the addition of Dontari Poe, the emergence of Grady Jarrett and the play of rookie Takkarist McKinley in his first season.

Poe signed with the Falcons during free agency on a one-year deal and his impact was evident from the get-go. The defensive tackle recorded 39 tackles, four tackles for loss, 10 quarterback hits, two pass deflections and 2.5 sacks in his first season in Atlanta.

Not only did Poe help the Falcons' defensive line as a collective unit, his presence helped Jarrett immensely.

Poe often drew double teams from opponents' offensive lines, freeing up Jarrett to make plays.

Jarrett had his best season to date recording 55 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits and four sacks.

Another new player on the Falcons' defensive line in 2017 was Jack Crawford, whose season was cut short due to a season-ending biceps injury in early October. In the four games he played before being placed on injured reserve, Crawford showed his versatility at both defensive tackle and end.

The Falcons drafted defensive end McKinley with their first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and he became a huge piece of Atlanta's defensive success. McKinley finished the year with six sacks – second most on the team and one shy of tying the franchise record for sacks by a rookie. He showed the speed and toughness coming off the edge that Quinn likes in his pass-rushers.

Atlanta finished the regular season with 39 sacks, five more than the 2017 season. The sacks came from a number of different players, showing the growth of the unit as a whole:

Adrian Clayborn – 9.5

Takk McKinley – 6

Vic Beasley – 5

Grady Jarrett – 4

Brooks Reed – 4

Dontari Poe – 2.5

Courtney Upshaw – 1

Derrick Shelby – 1

Several of these players were also key in helping the Falcons stop the run. Atlanta finished the season ranked ninth against the run, allowing 104.1 yards per game.

After a season in which he led the league in sacks with 15.5, Beasley was asked to play more SAM linebacker this season, meaning his responsibilities included more than just rushing the passer.

Quinn said the Falcons will Beasley permanently back to defensive end for the future.

As they move forward this offseason, Quinn and Dimitroff will have some decisions to make with a few players along the defensive line who will become unrestricted free agents this year: Clayborn, Upshaw and Poe.

For more on the full list of Atlanta's free agents, reporter Will McFadden provided a complete breakdown of this topic here.

What the Falcons do in free agency at this position could impact their needs come draft time.

A few of the early mock drafts have the Falcons taking a defensive tackle at No. 26. Two of the those prospects who've been inked to Atlanta at some point: Florida DT Taven Bryan and Stanford DT Harrison Phillips.

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