Editor's Note: The 'Falcons Breakdown' series analyzes the state of every position group in Atlanta. We'll take a look back at the group's overall production in 2022, who we think will stay in 2023 and who could be on the chopping block. We'll also pinpoint the position's biggest question of the offseason.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- There is no position in Atlanta that went through as significant turnover in 2022 as that of the Falcons defensive line. It's turnover that will follow Atlanta into 2023, too.
The Falcons have a pass rush problem. The problem being that they have not been able to generate a pass rush that is consistently moving the needle towards production that realistically shows up on a stat sheet. Let's get one thing straight, though: A stat sheet can't and won't tell the entire story, but it does show a piece of it, and it's a pretty big piece that is cracked right now.
For the Falcons defense to take a step in the right direction this offseason, one thing is clear: Atlanta needs more players along the defensive interior who can wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
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Way back in August of last year, the Falcons defensive interior looked very different - astronomically different - from what it ended up looking like by the season's end. The Falcons came into training camp with Grady Jarrett (of course), Vincent Taylor (who the organization picked up in free agency), Anthony Rush (who the Falcons brought back on a one-year deal after he helped out in 2021), Marlon Davidson (who was still trying to prove his worth as a former second-round pick) and Ta'Quon Graham (who was entering into his second year in the league).
As training camp began, though, this lineup dwindled. Taylor ruptured his Achilles in one of the Falcons first training camp practices. He was placed on injured reserve and never returned. Davidson injured his knee and did not participate in the final two preseason games. He was placed on injured reserve and was later released at the end of October. By that time, the Falcons had already parted ways with Rush, too, who started the first four games alongside Jarrett but was ultimately released at the beginning of October.
Graham did well for himself in his first real taste as a starter in the league, but the 2021 fifth-round pick was sidelined in November with a season-ending knee injury.
By Week 11, all that remained of that initial training camp group was Jarrett. So, for much of the season, the Falcons had to heavily rely upon its practice squad depth to support its interior push. That depth included Abdullah Anderson, Jalen Dalton, Jaleel Johnson and first-year player Timmy Horne.
All of these tweaks and changes have gotten the Falcons to where they are now in 2023, which is to a place where interior pass rush has to be a priority this offseason. With all of this in mind, let's take a more extensive look at this position's trajectory.
Grady Jarrett: 17 games | Six sacks | 61 combined tackles (12 for a loss) | 17 quarterback hits
Ta'Quon Graham: 11 games | No sacks | 34 combined tackles (one for a loss) | Eight quarterback hits
Abdullah Anderson: 16 games | One sack | 40 combined tackles (two for a loss) | One quarterback hit
Timmy Horne: 17 games | No sacks | 27 combined tackles (none for a loss) | One quarterback hit
Jaleel Johnson: Six games | No sacks | 10 combined tackles (none for a loss) | One quarterback hit
Jalen Dalton: Seven games | No sacks | 13 combined tackles (one for a loss) | No quarterback hits
Who stays: Jarrett, Graham
It's unfortunate that the Falcons didn't get a full year's worth of play from Graham, who was placed on injured reserve when Kyle Pitts was. Both suffered season ending knee injuries that required procedures.
Though his stat line may not look like much, turn on the film of Graham's 11 games and it tells a different story. Graham was consistently affecting the quarterback when he was on the field, even freeing up Jarrett a bit more, too.
Don't believe it? Look no further than Jarrett's stat line. From Week 1 to when Graham was hurt in Week 11, Jarrett accounted for 5.5 of his six total sacks on the year, 10 of his 12 tackles for a loss came during that period, too, as did 10 of his 17 quarterback hits of 2022. Jarrett was more productive when Graham was playing beside him because Graham was able to take some of the pressure off someone who consistently gets double - even triple - teamed.
Jarrett signed an extension last year. Graham is still on his rookie deal and was trending in the right direction in his first couple months as a starter before the injury occurred. Neither are going anywhere, but they need some help around them.
On the chopping block: Anderson, Horne, Johnson, Dalton
These four did well for what they were asked to do in 2022, but the Falcons usages of them should not be the same in 2023. They are reliable figures on the practice squad and as depth pieces. So, it wouldn't be shocking if the Falcons keep them around in that capacity. However, that should be it because the Falcons have to go out and get players who (realistically) surpass these four in production.
Chances are the Falcons will pump some serious cash/resources into continuing to revamp the defensive line. It's not likely that said cash and resources will be directed to keeping these four players.
What the Falcons need, these four players may not have the capacity to provide, which brings us to the biggest question this position faces this offseason.
Biggest offseason question: Who will the Falcons bring in to rejuvenate the position?
The Falcons will have the option to combat the interior pass rush problem in whatever way they choose. If they want to sign a big-time free agent? Great. If they want to spend a top draft pick on a defensive tackle? Sure. If they want to trade for an established and trusted veteran? Cool. If they want to do any combination of the three or all of the three? Do it.
At this point, the Falcons should do whatever it takes to get Jarrett the help he deserves. For too long, opposing offenses have been able to key on Jarrett without fear of relinquishing a one-on-one matchup elsewhere. Whoever the Falcons bring in has to make that impossible. Whoever the Falcons decide to put beside Jarrett (and Graham, too) has to be someone who strikes fear into opposing coordinators. They have to be a player that offensive linemen have to consistently account for. Truth be told, the Falcons could use a couple of those guys along the defensive interior if they find they have the means to do so.
Regardless, though, the question remains about just who the Falcons will go after. Who fits these requirements? And can the Falcons get them to Atlanta?
Join us as we take a look back at our favorite photos on defense from the 2022 Atlanta Falcons season.