Why Atlanta’s Defense Expects To Be Top 5

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Takkarist McKinley (98) works with assistant defensive line coach Travis Jones during an NFL football practice Wednesday, May 30, 2018, in Flowery Branch, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — It’s not a goal scribbled across a locker room chalkboard or written on a note inside each defender’s locker, but the Atlanta Falcons feel confident about achieving a particular mark in 2018: evolving into a top-5 defense.

Last season, under first-year defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel, the Falcons finished in the top 10 in both scoring defense (eighth at 19.7 points per game) and total defense (ninth at 318.4 yards per game) for the first time since 1998. Linebacker Deion Jones and strong safety Keanu Neal both played in the Pro Bowl, and nose tackle Grady Jarrett showed the NFL world why he should be an intimidating force for years to come.

The Falcons return nine of 11 players who started on defense in a 15-10 divisional playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. It’s still a relatively young unit as defensive end Brooks Reed, at 31, is the only player over 30. But most of the projected starters have at least two years completed in the system. READ MORE>