The Atlanta Falcons have struggled preventing opponents from scoring points the last several years but have added plenty of fresh faces. Here's a look at how the new additions fit into the depth chart.
EDGE1: Lorenzo Carter
EDGE2: Arnold Ebiketie
EDGE3: DeAngelo Malone
Perhaps the most intriguing unit on the defensive side of the ball is this one, with three new faces and moderate expectations. The Falcons had the fewest sacks in the NFL last year, and completely rebuilt its edge rush room.
Carter closed his four-year tenure with the New York Giants strong, posting all five of his sacks last season in the final four games. Atlanta will be hoping the former Georgia Bulldog can carry this form into 2022. Ebiketie and Malone, a pair of day two picks, offer high-end athleticism and college production, though the degree to which they contribute in year one is uncertain.
Regardless, the Falcons added young talents with upside and a track record of success, making this a position group to watch moving forward.
DE1: Ta’Quon Graham
DE2: Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Two day three picks from the new regime’s first draft make up the defensive end group, though it’s largely dependent on the front Atlanta’s in. With defensive coordinator Dean Pees largely running a 3-4 scheme, Graham’s size (6-4, 293-pounds) projects favorably to defensive end. He flashed down the stretch of his rookie season, and should be given a chance to establish himself as a starter in 2022.
Ogundeji could just as easily be slotted into the EDGE group, but he’s much better working forward rather than dropping into coverage. At 6-4, 268-pounds, Ogundeji is best served as a 4-3 defensive end, but, like Graham, flashed throughout his rookie season.
Day three picks typically aren’t expected to be early contributors. After a year of rotational work, Graham and Ogundeji will be given a larger role in their second seasons. The Falcons need at least one to turn those rookie season flashes into consistency, and if that occurs, it sets the future of the defensive line up nicely.
DT1: Grady Jarrett
DT2: Marlon Davidson
DT3: Vincent Taylor
Grady Jarrett has been a star in Atlanta for years, and was recently rewarded for his efforts with an extension. He’s been a rock throughout a turbulent last few years for the Falcons, and has asserted himself as one of the leaders of the team. Expect another disruptive season from the 29-year-old.
Davidson, a third-year pro out of Auburn, has had spurts of good play, but nagging injuries have slowed his development. He showed up to camp looking linear, which may signal a move to defensive end. Nonetheless, this feels like an important season for Davidson to prove he belongs in the league.
Atlanta signed Taylor this offseason after he spent the 2021 season in Houston, playing in just one game before succumbing to an ankle injury. He’s never played a full season, and will largely be on the team for rotational purposes; his roster spot isn’t guaranteed.
NT1: Anthony Rush
Rush will face competition in training camp from rookie UDFA Timmy Horne, but his impressive closing stretch last season, which featured six starts across 10 appearances, will ultimately be enough to keep him on the team. At 6-5, 350-pounds, Rush has the ideal frame for a nose tackle, and can really clog lanes.
LB1: Rashaan Evans
LB2: Mykal Walker
LB3: Nick Kwiatkoski
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LB4: Troy Andersen
LB5: Dorian Etheridge
There’s a big name missing here: Deion Jones. Throughout the offseason, Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith has failed to mention Jones when discussing the linebacker core. While Jones had tremendous production in 2021 with 137 total tackles and eight tackles-for-loss, he struggled taking on blocks and filling gaps in the manner Pees needs from his linebackers. The date to remember for Jones is June 1st, when his cap savings from a trade goes from $9.3 million to $14.7 million, and dead money from $10.6 million to $5.3 million.
Evans, a former first round pick of the Tennessee Titans who signed with Atlanta this offseason, played under Pees in Tennessee, and will be looking to rejuvenate his career. Walker has flashed throughout his career despite a relatively low snap count, but he should have a chance to step into a larger role.
Andersen is an athletic freak with an extremely bright future, but may require a bit of a redshirt year, adjusting from the FCS to the NFL while also still learning the linebacker position. Etheridge, a 2021 UDFA, spent much of last season in Atlanta’s building, and offers special teams ability.
CB1: A.J. Terrell
CB2: Casey Hayward
CB3: Isaiah Oliver
CB4: Darren Hall
CB5: Avery Williams
Terrell, an AP second team All-Pro last season, and Hayward, a two-time Pro Bowler, are poised to form one of the best corner duos in franchise history. Oliver was off to a nice start at nickel last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in week three; if he returns to full health, the Falcons’ top three corners have a chance to dominate.
Hall and Williams saw more snaps last year than many would have preferred out of day three rookies. Hall had some bright spots, especially in the nickel against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Williams will handle all return duties; he’s an outstanding special teams player. The Falcons often use their safeties in the slot, as well, and Richie Grant in particular may see lots of work.
The secondary, and the corners in particular, appear to be the team’s strongest unit on paper.
FS1: Erik Harris
FS2: Richie Grant
Harris is a pro’s pro, and a great locker room presence. He started all 12 games in which he appeared in for the Falcons last season, totaling 64 tackles and eight passes defended. He’s an invaluable resource for Atlanta’s young players.
Grant, the Falcons’ second-round pick in 2021, saw significant action at nickel corner last season, but should see a larger role at free safety this year. He’s a rangy player who can really cover, but missed too many tackles last season. As he develops physically, he should only get better.
SS1: Jaylinn Hawkins
SS2: Dean Marlowe
Duron Harmon started all 17 games here a season ago, but he’s no longer in the picture. That creates an opportunity for third-year pro Jaylinn Hawkins, a four-game starter last year, to establish himself as a legitimate piece for Atlanta moving forward. He had two interceptions, three passes defended, and 24 total tackles across 14 appearances.
Marlowe joins the team after one season in Detroit, in which he started nine of the 16 games he appeared in. Marlowe had 67 total tackles and two passes defended. He’s primarily been a rotational piece throughout his career, and that is likely to continue in 2022.
Here, Atlanta has 24 defensive players. One key element of the new regime is versatility - several of the players listed on this depth chart can play more than one position, in addition to offering special teams ability.
Plenty will change with the Falcons roster between now and week 1, but this is how the defensive units may line up come the season opener.