Grady Jarrett has been a consistent bright spot for a Falcons defense that has taken its lumps over the past couple of seasons. It's no surprise that he's been a key part of the turnaround that the Falcons new leadership, Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith, expect to make in 2021. Atlanta's brass has stated several times that they are focused on building for the future while being competitive in 2021. Jarrett backed up that sentiment with his belief in himself and his teammates.
"I prepare week in and week out to be the best defender in the league," said Jarrett. "I go in there and do what I've got to do and try to put out a good example for my teammates. We are never at a point where we are going to say we're going just sit back and take an L. We are grinding every day."
A fifth-round pick out of Clemson in the 2015 NFL Draft, Garrett has worked tirelessly to turn himself into one of the premier interior defenders in the NFL. He has earned Pro Bowl nods in each of the past two seasons and was named a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and Pro Football Focus in 2019.
Despite the Falcons defensive struggles, Garrett has remained a consistent performer for the unit over the course of his career. According to PFF, Garrett ranked sixth among interior defensive linemen with an overall grade of 80.3 and fourth with an 83.3 pass-rushing grade last season. The team captain created 57 total pressures with five sacks, 17 quarterback hits, and 35 hurries. While Jarrett has enjoyed individual success and accolades, but he's not satisfied with a couple of Pro Bowls and trips to the playoffs.
"Real success is coming up with that championship," said Jarrett. "Having success in our division. It's a super highly competitive division. I think it's time for us to take that step. Be competitive again. Gain our respect back around the league."
After reaching the Super Bowl and making back-to-back playoff appearances all within his first three seasons, Jarrett has seen the work it takes to reach the pinnacle. He's also seen how quickly fortunes can turn in the NFL, where the margin between wins and losses is razor-thin. Entering his seventh season, that experience has informed his goals moving forward.
"[We want to] get back to these playoffs, chase a championship, be a Pro Bowler, be an All-Pro," said Jarrett. "I expect to have my best year this year and continue to grow. That's what I work for every day, to try and up myself."
Defensive tackle Grady has earned another Pro Bowl nod following for his play in the 2020 season. The Pro Bowl rosters are determined by a combination of fan, player and coach voting, and both Koo and Jarrett are well-deserving of the recognition.
This week marks the first time that Jarrett has been able to be on the field with his teammates for more than strength and conditioning. It's also the first time that he's had a chance to work with the Falcons new coaching staff, particularly defensive coordinator Dean Pees and defensive line coach Gary Emmanuel. Jarrett said he wasn't overly familiar with Pees when he was hired but that his resume spoke for itself. The veteran defensive play-caller has coached some of the NFL's most lauded players, including Jarrett's mentor, Ray Lewis, but it's been through direct (or virtual) interaction that's given Jarrett the best insight into Pees.
"[He is open to] getting input back from his players and open to suggestions. But also going into the details on why we do certain things and why he asks certain things of us in different positions. Having that insight and coach being open enough to share that with you is good," said Jarrett.
Pees isn't the only experienced defensive coach that Jarrett will work with in 2021. He'll also have the opportunity to learn under Gary Emmanuel who has 10 years of experience coaching in the NFL but has been coaching for nearly four decades and brings a no-nonsense approach to his meeting room.
"He's straight line," said Jarrett. "He lets his expectations be clear upfront for the whole room. You can't do anything but respect that. He done coached coaches that coached me. He coached BY [Bryant Young]. He's an OG in the game and I can't wait to learn from him."
Jarrett's work ethic has been a hallmark of his ascendancy from fifth-round pick to Pro Bowler. It's also made him one of the team's leaders. That leadership role is not one that Jarrett takes lightly. It's become woven into his approach both on and off of the field.
"I'm always going to grow and develop my skills as a leader and learn where I can be better," said Jarrett. "[I want to] be the example, putting the work in day in and day out and not ask anything of anybody that I'm not willing to do myself."
His goals and expectations for himself and the team at large are clear. He also understands the NFL is a result-driven business, a process-oriented approach is the best path to success.
"Continue to get better, control what I can control, and help lead my guys to be the best that they can be. That's success. Success is really just doing your best day in and day out. I feel like if we do that, we'll be where we want to be," said Jarrett.
As one of the marquee players at his position, Jarrett is compensated thusly. That has led to speculation about a possible contract extension or restructuring to help ease the Falcons tight salary cap. Fontenot has been open about his desire not to negatively impact the cap in future years with short-term fixes, but Jarrett isn't moving his focus away from his on-field goals. And when asked about his long-term interest in being in Atlanta, Jarrett's response was simple and to the point.
"I'm from the city, man."
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