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Why Grady Jarrett is the Falcons’ breakout player this season

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Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett was a little undersized coming out of college from Clemson, and that was about the only reason he lasted until the fifth round of the 2015 draft. But he was and still is a spark plug on the field whose talent and production are not defined by his height or weight.

What sticks out to me about Jarrett's game is that he has a really good base and balance that makes it hard to move him anywhere he doesn't want to go. That allows him to play all over the interior of the defensive line.

Watch his film from last year and you will see him primarily at nose tackle, but also at three technique some and even out at as a five technique defensive end. And he played well almost anywhere that the Falcons put him.

He was primarily playing nose tackle, which I guess was more about need than fit. Jarrett certainly more than held his own at nose tackle, but I don't think there is any question that his more natural position is at three technique. But many times where a guy plays is more about what is best for the team versus what is best for the player. To his credit, not only did Jarrett never seem to complain, he took ownership of that nose tackle position and played his ass off there.

With the offseason pickup of former Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe, it looks like Jarrett will now be able to move primarily to three technique for this season.* I think you are going to see him vault himself into the elite defensive tackle discussion with his play there.

With his phenomenal short area quickness as well as impeccable pad level, Jarrett is going to be hell on a guard now that he gets to shoot upfield in his gap most plays. And Poe's presence is going to demand a lot of attention too, which means opposing centers won't always be in a rush to help the guard trying to block Jarrett, lest Poe end up making the play.

It’s the classic damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario because if you don't double Jarrett at three technique he is going to feast on most of the guards he lines up across from.

Oh, and did I mention Vic Beasley, who led the NFL in sacks last year with 15.5, is probably going to be even better this season as well?

I know people consider the Falcons defense to be their weak point, but this year all of that may change with Poe's arrival and Jarrett's move to three technique. At the very least, most quarterbacks won't be feeling comfortable when they try to pass on early downs.

When I envision how the Falcons will play on defense, I truly see the sky being the limit for Jarrett as long as he stays healthy. Not many interior defensive linemen get to double-digit sacks these days. But when you take everything into consideration, not only do I think it’s possible for Jarrett, I actually think it’s likely that he gets to 10 or more sacks this year. Hell, he had three last season when he was barely used as a pass rusher, and now he gets to be lined up in a pass rushing alignment almost every play. That is why Grady Jarrett was an easy choice to be the Falcons' breakout player of 2017.

*Disclaimer: I'm basing this selection on the assumption that the Falcons will play Jarrett at three technique and Poe at nose tackle, because duh. But in the first preseason game they still had Jarrett at nose and had Poe at three technique. I don't get it, but if Jarrett isn't the three technique for the Falcons this season, just disregard this whole column and I'm going to need to find some glue to sniff.