The NFL has long sought to establish a permanent footprint in Europe, but the Falcons are already benefiting from one English-born athlete.
Defensive tackle Jack Crawford, who grew up in Kilburn, an area northwest of London, England, finished the 2018 season with six sacks for the Falcons – the same number of sacks as the highly-touted Grady Jarrett. But the 30-year-old Crawford still feels to be a bit overlooked on a defensive line that has been the source of plenty of hand-wringing amongst Falcons fans.
As Atlanta begins its preparation for the 2019 season, Crawford appears to be part of the solution up front for the Falcons, not part of the problem.
"I've had the most success I've had in my career last year," Crawford said. "It's at a point now where I take it as positive [motivation] where people say, 'We need more because all we have is this guy,' or, 'We don't have anything there, and he isn't going to play to the level we need.'"
Crawford arrived in Atlanta in 2017, and he really burst onto fans' radars in the final game of the preseason after recording four tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. A torn biceps injury in Week 4 cost Crawford the rest of the 2017 season, but he picked up right where he left off in 2018.
The 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive tackle doesn't need to be in the spotlight, however. Crawford often stays focused on himself, working diligently to improve his own strengths and weaknesses. Long before his NFL career began, though, Crawford was already accumulating notoriety for his athleticism.
While attending the City of London School, Crawford shared a class with Daniel Radcliffe, the star and titular character in the film adaptations of the "Harry Potter" series. While Radcliffe was adored by millions of people across the planet, he was well aware of one of the school's top athletes.
"Funny story, for what it's worth, he came up to me and said, 'Oh, you're J.J. (Crawford's London nickname), I know you,'" Crawford explained. "And I was like, 'What's up, Harry Potter.'
"I didn't think much of it and now when I go to California I'll see him up on billboards and stuff. If I ever came up to him now and was like, 'Oh, remember when we were in class,' he probably wouldn't remember me."
Whether Radcliffe remembers who Crawford is ultimately pales in comparison to whether or not the defensive tackle continues to make his name known around the NFL. Following his career year in which he had seven tackles for a loss, six sacks, one forced fumble and one interception, Crawford has proven to be an asset as an interior pass rusher for the Falcons.
Atlanta's defense is in a bit of a transition period as head coach Dan Quinn takes over the defensive coordinator role and Jess Simpson takes over for Bryant Young as the defensive line coach. Quinn, who has an extensive history as a defensive line coach, is often seen working with Simpson's group.
Crawford and his teammates should benefit from Quinn's expertise in that area, but Simpson, who was with the Falcons during Crawford's first year in Atlanta, has seen him take it upon himself to become a better player.
"He's more vocal," Simpson said of how Crawford's grown. "He's learning some better skills, his knowledge of protections and blocks he's going to get are improving … It's just really cool to see him growing as a player and a person. Everybody wants a Jack Crawford on their team, he's an awesome guy."
Crawford has plenty of size to handle interior responsibilities in the NFL, but it's his quickness and lateral agility that make him such an effective player for the Falcons. Simpson and the Falcons value positional flexibility, and Crawford's ability to play both on the inside and the outside gives the team more options to attack opponents.
But size and speed, in Crawford's opinion, are common across the NFL. Every player in the league is a gifted athlete. What Crawford hopes will continue to set him apart from others is the effort his gives day in and day out.
"There's no substitute for it man," Crawford said of effort. "That will keep you in the NFL. As a defensive lineman or someone in the trenches, there's no substitute for it. If you have that quality, you're going to play a long time and at the end of the game you're going to have some success. And that's the only way to get better, playing with full effort."
Crawford's effort in 2018 was noticeable, as he was near the top of the list of bright spots on the Falcons' defensive line. With a repeat effort, who knows, maybe even Harry Potter will once again take notice.