Falcons 2020 roster outlook: 5 things to know about the defensive line

RosterDL

Editor's note: This is No. 6 in a series detailing each position group on the Falcons' 90-man roster.

FALCONS ROSTER PREVIEWS

The Falcons recorded only 28 sacks in 2019, the second-fewest in the NFL. This fall, the pressure will be on Atlanta's defensive line to, well, generate more pressure. Pressure isn't only measured in sacks, but for a defense that wants to put offenses off-kilter and create opportunities for turnovers, the Falcons didn't do that frequently enough last season. In an effort to help remedy that, Atlanta parted ways with Vic Beasley in free agency and swapped him out for Dante Fowler.

2019 returning production

Table inside Article
Player Games started Tackles Tackles for loss Sacks Forced fumbles PFF grade
Allen Bailey 5 26 4 1 0 64.1
John Cominsky 0 11 0 0.5 0 82.1
Tyeler Davison 12 55 4 1 0 67.5
Grady Jarrett 16 69 12 7.5 2 90.1
Austin Larkin 0 1 0 0 0 42.8
Takk McKinley 13 29 7 3.5 0 67.0
Deadrin Senat 0 0 0 0 0 N/A
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner 1 14 1 0 1 68.9

2019 incoming production

Table inside Article
Player Games started Tackles Tackles for loss Sacks Forced fumbles PFF grade
Dante Fowler 14 58 16 11.5 2 72.0
Charles Harris 5 23 3 0.5 0 62.4

Here are 5 things to know about the Falcons' defensive line heading into 2020:

1. Dante Fowler is coming off a career year

After allowing Vic Beasley to head elsewhere in free agency, the Falcons decided to bring in former Los Angeles Rams pass rusher Dante Fowler. Both players were considered top pass-rush prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, but their careers have taken different paths upon entering the league. While Beasley went on to become the league's sack leader in his second season, a major ACL injury slowed Fowler's start.

In 2019, however, Fowler showed the potential he possesses. He had a career-best 11.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss in his first full season with the Rams and looks like a player on the ascent. It shouldn't be overlooked that Fowler is rejoining Dan Quinn, who he worked with in college at Florida. The two have a close relationship, which should help Fowler get acclimated and understand his role sooner rather than later.

2. Just how high is Grady Jarrett's ceiling?

It's clear after the 2019 season that Jarrett's incredibly self-motivated. After signing a big contract extension, Jarrett turned in the best season of his career and earned his first Pro Bowl nod. He registered 69 tackles, 12 tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. Jarrett has emerged as an unquestioned leader on the Falcons' defense and within the locker room.

As one of the top interior defensive linemen in the league, Jarrett has improved with each season upon entering the league as a fifth-round draft pick. The only question now is: After making his first Pro Bowl, what does Jarrett have in store for an encore?  

3. Time for Takk McKinley to step up

The Falcons exercised the fifth-year option on Vic Beasley, but they might not be so quick to do the same with McKinley unless he truly earns it this season. After entering the league as a first-round draft pick in 2017, McKinley has just 16.5 sacks and is coming off a season in which he recorded a career-low 3.5 sacks.

McKinley's play on the field often surpasses his box-score stats, but he simply hasn't made enough impact plays for the Falcons. Perhaps the addition of Fowler on the opposite side will help him finally put everything together as an impact pass rusher, but the 2020 season will undoubtedly be an important one for McKinley's future in Atlanta.  

*4. What will Marlon Davidson's role be? *

One of the most intriguing players in this year's Falcons draft class is second-round pick Marlon Davidson. An edge rusher at Auburn, the 6-foot-3, 303-pound defensive lineman projects to play on the interior alongside Jarrett with the Falcons. Although he has the size of a defensive tackle, he offers the flexibility and pass-rush skills of a big edge defender, which means the Falcons could get creative with how they deploy him.

Atlanta re-signed Tyeler Davison, who was one of the team's top run defenders in 2019. He figures to pair with Jarrett at tackle on early downs, but it certainly wouldn't be surprising to see Davidson earn a role on passing downs in his first season with the Falcons.

5. Which of the supporting cast can make an impact?

Atlanta has some interesting depth pieces along the defensive line, including former first-round pick Charles Harris, who the team traded for this offseason. He will be a primary backup on the edge, but there are also players like Allen Bailey, Steven Means and John Cominsky who also figure to factor into the rotation. Cominsky is an especially interesting player to keep an eye on. In his first NFL season, Cominsky battled through injuries but was still an effective defender when on the field. Atlanta has a hybrid role in mind for him in 2020, utilizing him on both the interior and exterior of the defensive line.

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