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Interior defensive line anchored by David Onyemata, but missed Grady Jarrett -- Falcons Breakdown

We take a look at the group's 2023 production and where the position could go in 2024. 

Editor's note: The Falcons editorial team of Scott Bair, Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan will analyze each position group during the "Falcons Breakdown" series, which evaluates how every position performed in 2023 and what to look for in 2024. Up next, the defense takes center stage.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- One of the most significant areas of improvement for the Falcons defense in 2023 was sack totals, and if you don't think the interior defensive line played a role in that improvement, you may be watching the wrong team.

As noted in one of the final Nerdy Birds editions of the 2023 season, Atlanta's improvement from 21 sacks in 2022 to 42 in 2023 marks the largest year-over-year improvement in the NFL this past season. It was the largest improvement by a Falcons team since at least 2000.

What's more, under the tutelage of former defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, the Falcons defense made leaps and bounds in other statistical categories, too. Atlanta improved from 26th in the league in yards per play allowed to seventh, and from 31st in the league in third-down stops to third.

And let's talk about the defense's ability to stop the run, too. In 2023, the Falcons defense held opponents to a yards per carry average of 4.0, which ranked them in the top-10 in that category. They only allowed 11 rushing touchdowns all year. And yes, the interior defensive line played a major role in stuffing the run.

With Grady Jarrett set to make his return in 2024 from a season-ending injury in 2023, let's dive into the position group's prognosis.


2023 production

David Onyemata: 14 game appearances | 14 starts | Four sacks | 50 combined tackles (six for a loss) | 16 quarterback hits | Three passes deflected | Two forced fumbles

Grady Jarrett: Eight game appearances | Eight starts | 1.5 sacks | 23 combined tackles (two for a loss) | Two passes deflected | Eight quarterback hits

Albert Huggins: 13 game appearances | Five starts | No sacks | 22 combined tackles (none for a loss) | Two quarterback hits | One fumble recovery

Ta'Quon Graham: 15 game appearances | Two starts | One sack | 23 combined tackles (one for a loss) | Two quarterback hits | One forced fumble

LaCale London: Seven game appearances | No starts | No sacks | 13 combined tackles (two for a loss) | No quarterback hits | One fumble recovery

Kentavius Street: Five game appearances | Five starts | 1.0 sacks | 14 combined tackles (four for a loss) | One quarterback hit | One pass defensed | One fumble recovery

Who stays: Grady Jarrett, David Onyemata and Ta'Quon Graham

Who's on the bubble: Albert Huggins, LaCale London, Kentavius Street

Biggest offseason question: How much of this group stays together?

Jarrett, Onyemata and Graham are all under contract for the Falcons until at least the end of the 2024 season. And though the Falcons were without Jarrett for majority of the 2023 season, he's well on his way to return from a torn ACL. Also, just because Huggins and London show up in the above "on the bubble" section, doesn't mean the Falcons can't or won't re-sign them following the expiration of their one-year deals from this previous season. Same goes for Street, though he suffered a pectoral injury late in the season and that could play a role in his retention. If the Falcons so choose, this group could look incredibly similar in 2024 to what it did in 2023.

However, this question of how similar also includes their coach.

The Falcons parted ways with Arthur Smith on Jan. 8 and Nielsen left to become the Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator on Monday. Along with his coordinator role, Nielsen was also the defensive line coach, working with the interior defensive line and defensive ends. Nielsen was an immediate hit with the position group and helped lead the unit in one of the most significant defensive turnarounds across the league.

With the Falcons having yet to announce a new hire at head coach and eventually having someone new call defensive plays, where all of this goes from here remains TBD.

Join us as we take a look back on the top 100 photos from the Atlanta Falcons' 2023 season.

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