2016 unit-by-unit analysis: The defensive line

FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) as the Atlanta Falcons meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. Hyosub Shin/AJC

FEBRUARY 5, 2017 HOUSTON TX
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is sacked by Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Grady Jarrett (97) as the Atlanta Falcons meet the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX, Sunday, February 5, 2017. Hyosub Shin/AJC

FLOWERY BRANCH — The Falcons reclaimed the NFC South title and became NFC champions for just the second time in franchise history.

The Falcons, calling themselves a Brotherhood, had a major breakthrough in Dan Quinn’s second season as head coach before collapsing in the Super Bowl LI in grand fashion against New England by blowing a 25-point lead.

The offense soared to new heights and the young and marauding defense made great strides over the course of the season.

We continue our unit-by-unit review of the 2016 team with the defensive line:

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

DEFENSIVE LINE

Who: Starters — DLE – Tyson Jackson. DLT – Grady Jarrett. NT – Jonathan Babineaux (UFA). DRE – Brooks Reed. Backups – DE Dwight Freeney (UFA), Adrian Clayborn, Courtney Upshaw (UFA). DT – Ra’Shede Hageman, Derrick Shelby and Chris Mayes.

Contract/free agent situation:  Babineaux (425 snaps) and Freeney (415 snaps) are set to become unrestricted free agents. Babineaux said he wants to continue playing. Freeney, 35, wants to think about things before he makes a decision. Upshaw (310 snaps) is also set to become an unrestricted free agent.

What they did in season:  Clayborn (583 snaps) was the team second-most effective pass rusher, but his season was cut short by a torn bicep injury. He started his rehab on Wednesday. Jarrett (630 snaps) held up just fine as smallish penetration defensive tackle. Upshaw, a former linebacker, was converted to a valuable defensive end/tackle and earned more playing time over the course of the season. Reed (425 snaps) played well down the stretch against the run.  Hagemen, a former second-round pick, who the team was about to give up on, played well down the stretch. He played 265 snaps. Now, the team has a tough decision to make about his future. Derrick Shelby’s promising season – 245 snaps — was cut short by injury.

What they did in postseason:  Jarrett had an explosive three-sack performance in the Super Bowl. Hageman, Upshaw, Tyson Jackson, Babineaux, Freeney and Ben Garland all had sacks in the playoffs.

Comment: Look for the Falcons to try to upgrade the defensive end position in the draft for new defensive line coach Bryant Young. They will also try to find better depth behind the tackles.

2016 ATLANTA FALCONS UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

Monday: The Quarterbacks

Tuesday: The running backs and Wide receivers

Wednesday: The tight ends at 10 a.m. and offensive line at 2 p.m.

Thursday: The defensive line at 10 a.m. and linebackers at 2 p.m.

Friday:  The defensive backs at 10 a.m. and special teams at 2 p.m.

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