Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 23rd best player in defensive end Tyson Jackson.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 52/100
Last year’s rank: 23rd
Player Grade: 53/100
Teams he is starter: 8 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 1 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 32 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +2
Positional Bonus: +3
Jackson made no move up or down in this year’s rankings, as he basically did what was expected to do in 2014. At least if those expectations were based upon actually watching him play prior to his arrival in Atlanta.
For many, expectations were high for Jackson based solely off the large five-year contract he signed with the team at the outset of free agency a year ago. But Jackson’s contract unfairly raised hopes for what his impact would be in 2014 due to the fact that he was not a player capable of living up to them.
Jackson made his name in Kansas City by stuffing the run in their 3-4 defense. The Falcons hoped to add his girth to their front a year ago to beef up their run defense and paid handsomely for it. However, Jackson was never one of Chiefs’ best run-defenders. In fact, if Jackson had not been a top three pick by the Chiefs in 2009, he probably would have found a permanent home on the bench. Throughout his tenure in Kansas City, he was regularly outplayed by fellow ends Glenn Dorsey, Ropati Pitoitua and Mike DeVito, yet there seemed to be a revolving door at that other spot while Jackson was a mainstay, largely because of the high draft pick invested in him.
The Chiefs got the most out of Jackson in 2013 when he played just 46 percent of their defensive snaps. The Falcons gave him nearly an identical workload in 2014, but the two situations couldn’t be any more different.
In Kansas City, Jackson was surrounded by a wealth of Pro-Bowl talent such as linebackers Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and nose tackle Dontari Poe. Thus, Jackson was effective as a complementary player that was simply asked to hold gaps and shield blockers thus freeing up those other playmakers to do what they did best.
In Atlanta that was not remotely the case. Although the Falcons asked Jackson to do much of the same, with a much weaker group of linebackers behind him, that role proved ineffective. Coupled with Jackson’s high salary, he was now thrust into a position where he needed to be a playmaker himself, something Jackson never had been nor should have been put into a position to have to become. That explains at least some of the backlash against him.
This year, Jackson is poised for a fresh start in Atlanta under new head coach Dan Quinn. He’s been asked to slim down in the hopes that he can add some of the former quickness that he possessed that prompted his high selection in the draft six years ago. Jackson will essentially play the “Red Bryant role” in Quinn’s defense, playing a five-technique defensive end spot similar to that which he’s done throughout his career. Jackson will be asked to set the edge and eat up blocks and if he can occasionally put heat on the quarterback, that will be a bonus. Bryant played an important role in why the Seahawks’ 2013 defense was one of the best ever.
While the Falcons aren’t expected to sport one of the greatest defenses of all-time in 2015, they do hope that like Bryant, Jackson will too provide value in a defensive resurgence. The positive for the Falcons is that they’ve added a few more playmakers in their front seven so that even if Jackson is the exact same player he’s always been, at least it won’t be problematic for the Falcons defense. Like he did in Kansas City, Jackson will help make other players around him better even if it means he remains a middling guy himself.