Someone asked me the other day, “Is Grady Jarrett the best defensive tackle to ever wear an Atlanta Falcons uniform?”
My response: Who has done it better?
Seriously. It's not like the Falcons have had a rich history littered with Pro Bowl or Hall of Fame-caliber defensive tackles like some other clubs. But Atlanta can start to build that history with Jarrett and did its part to keep their star defensive tackle with the team for the foreseeable future, by agreeing to terms on a new contract Monday.
Who else is in the conversation with Jarrett, a 26-year-old relentless defender who has increased his sack total every single year in the league and now has 14 after four seasons? And, no, I’m not even counting the three Jarrett had against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Super Bowl LI, either.
Shoot, that performance had Jarrett in the Super Bowl MVP conversation. And I think if he had ended up as the first player since Dallas Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley to earn MVP honors despite being on the losing team, not many would’ve had a problem with it.
I know I wouldn’t have, and I was at that Super Bowl in Houston (working for CBS Sports at the time).
So, who you got? Jonathan Babineaux?
Babineaux was a fantastic player for the Falcons, there’s no denying that. He played 12 seasons in Atlanta from 2005 to 2016 and finished with 27 sacks and 393 combined tackles. Babineaux also played in eight postseason games and added 2.5 more sacks and 18 tackles.
But Babineaux didn’t just play defensive tackle; he moved around quite a bit and also played defensive end. Babineaux’s best season? I’d go with 2009, his fifth year in the league, when he tallied six sacks and 47 total tackles – both career-best totals.
Jarrett, mind you, had six sacks and 52 total tackles in 2018 – and he also missed two games. Over the last three seasons, Jarrett has totaled 155 tackles (48, 55 and 52).
Again, Babineaux was a very good player for the Falcons, but he never put together a four-year run production-wise like Jarrett has since being selected in the fifth round (137th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Who else do you want to throw into the ring? Dontari Poe?
Again, Poe was a good player while in Atlanta, but once you look closer at his body of work while in a Falcons uniform during that 2017 season – 2.5 sacks, 39 total tackles, four tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hits – there is no argument.
Next? Well, Rod Coleman is an intriguing name. Coleman, who was drafted by the Raiders in 1999 and played his first five seasons in Oakland, played defensive tackle for the Falcons from 2004 to 2007 – the final four years of his career.
And, I’ll tell you what, it was a pretty good four-year run here for Coleman. During his first two seasons in Atlanta, Coleman had 22 sacks – 11.5 in 2004 and 10.5 in 2005 – and 80 total tackles. Heck, in 2004, Coleman even had a pick-six for a 39-yard score and in 2005 he was named to the Pro Bowl.
That’s not quite Aaron Donald-like numbers, but darn close.
Over the next two years, however, Coleman’s production dropped considerably. Coleman’s sack total dropped to six, which is still pretty good, and 25 total tackles. Coleman played in just two games the following year due to a leg injury and managed a pair of sacks and seven tackles.
After Babineaux, Poe and Coleman, there’s really not anyone else worth considering.
Maybe Tony Casillas? The former No. 2 overall pick in the 1986 draft had a pretty good five-year run on some bad Falcons teams before a contract dispute led to a temporary retirement and a subsequent trade to the Dallas Cowboys in 1991, where he enjoyed his best seasons as a pro. I will say this much, Casillas had a staggering amount of tackles for the Falcons from 1986 to 1990 – 478 total! – and eight sacks.
But let’s face it, of all the legendary players to wear the Red and Black since this franchise was founded 53 years ago, there haven’t been a whole lot who’ve played defensive tackle.
And after just four seasons, Jarrett’s production not only moves him to the front of the Falcons class, but the future looks very good for the 6-foot, 305-pound wrecking ball. I not only expect the Conyers, Ga., native to play out his career here in Atlanta, but there will be no need to even ask if he’s the greatest defensive tackle to ever wear a Falcons uniform.
Frankly, I wonder why anyone is even asking it now.
*Note: All opinions here are Matthew Tabeek's unless otherwise noted.