Tabeek's roster predictions: Falcons defensive line

Several positions are up for grabs but here's an early guess at how the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster could look heading into 2020

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

One of the biggest reasons for Atlanta's turnaround in 2019 was its defense. The Falcons were 1-7 after their first eight games and ranked near the bottom of the league in several key statistical categories. Coach Dan Quinn identified some of the issues plaguing his team and reshuffled his coaching staff. It was bold and risky, but the Falcons head coach decided it was necessary.

And it worked.

The Falcons went 6-2 down the stretch, including a 4-0 run to close out the season. Atlanta went on the road and beat New Orleans, Carolina and San Francisco, too. Those three wins ultimately reshaped the way we'll remember that team and season.

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The big question following the season, though, was how would the Falcons build on their late-season success and improve that unit heading into 2020. Remember, at the end of the day, the Falcons still ranked 19th, 22nd, 22nd and 29th in turnover differential, passing defense, scoring defense and in sacks. There's plenty of room for improvement, especially along the defensive line.

Atlanta went out and signed edge rusher Dante Fowler during free agency, traded for defensive end Charles Harris, and four of their six draft picks in April were on the defensive side of the ball, including second-round defensive tackle Marlon Davidson. Was that enough? We're about to find out.

OVERVIEW

It all starts with Jarrett: In July, I had the way-too-easy assignment of making the case that Grady Jarrett was the best defensive lineman of this past decade. I took it a step further and wrote that I believe he'll go down as the best defensive tackle in Falcons history when it's all said and done. Jarrett registered a career high 7.5 sacks and 69 combined tackles in 2019. He also tallied 16 hits on quarterbacks and 12 tackles for a loss on his way to a Pro Bowl nod and second-team All-Pro selection. Jarrett is the heart and soul of this defense, and the Falcons will need another Grady-like season from him in 2020.

Much-needed boost: After finishing with 28 sacks last season, which was tied for the second-fewest in the NFL, the Falcons went out and signed edge rusher Dante Fowler. The third-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Fowler tallied a career-high 11.5 sacks for the Los Angeles Rams in 2019. During his four seasons in the league, Fowler has recorded 141 tackles, 34 tackles for a loss and 27.5 sacks. The Falcons are hoping that Fowler's arrow is pointing up and last year was a sign of things to come from him.

Breakout year for Takk? It's go time for Takk McKinley, and the table is set for the Falcons' fiery pass rusher to finally have that long-anticipated breakout season (we think he will, by the way.) McKinley, who was the 26th overall pick in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, is entering his fourth year with the Falcons and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2020 season after Atlanta opted to not pick up his fifth-year option. I'm expecting a big year from McKinley.

Don't sleep on Davison: Tyeler Davison recorded 55 tackles (26 solo), one sack, four tackles for loss, two quarterback hits and one fumble recovery in 12 starts and played in all 16 games in 2019. The Falcons gave him a three-year contract extension in March for a reason: They like what he brings to the table, especially against the run.

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Here are the number of defensive linemen the Falcons have kept in previous seasons on the initial roster:

LOCKS

Here are the players who I think are locks to make the team (i.e., starters and key reserves) unless something unforeseen should happen (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Allen Bailey
  • John Cominsky
  • Marlon Davidson
  • Tyeler Davison
  • Dante Fowler
  • Grady Jarrett
  • Takk McKinley
  • Steven Means

ON THE BUBBLE

Here are the players who I think are still in the mix to make the team, could land on the practice squad or will be released (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Hinwa Allieu
  • Austin Edwards
  • Charles Harris
  • Sailosi Latu
  • Deadrin Senat
  • Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

PREDICTION

  • 2020 roster forecast: 10 defensive linemen

Tabeek's Take: The Falcons have gone with nine defensive linemen on their initial roster the last two seasons, and with eight in 2017. I'm predicting they'll go with 10, at least initially, and here's why: it might be necessary. Compared to previous seasons, the Falcons have been remarkably healthy throughout the offseason and training camp. But, with Week 1 just days away, a number of players along the defensive line are reportedly dealing with some minor injuries and/or issues. Outside of the locks, I also think Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Charles Harris have showed enough during camp to warrant spots on this active roster.

  • Allen Bailey
  • John Cominsky
  • Marlon Davidson
  • Tyeler Davison
  • Dante Fowler
  • Charles Harris
  • Grady Jarrett
  • Takk McKinley
  • Steven Means
  • Jacob Tuioti-Mariner

PREDICTING THE 53-MAN ROSTER

A look at roster battle at defensive line. The views and opinions represented here and in the corresponding article belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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