Enter DT Grady Jarrett.
Jarrett is a 6’1, 305-pound sophomore defensive tackle out of Clemson that has come into his own as a player this year. He was rated as one of Pro Football Focus’ top college prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft, but ultimately fell to the 5th round. He is of a similar mold to Bengals DT Geno Atkins with regards to his penetration of the line, but he’s much less accomplished.
The Patriots will ask their interior line to block Jarrett, who aligns anywhere from the nose to the edge- and the Patriots interior of LG Joe Thuney, C David Andrews, and RG Shaq Mason are all very familiar with Jarrett.
“The three inside guys I played against them in college,” Jarrett said at Super Bowl media day. ?It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a good match-up. They do a really good job. They definitely believe in them that they give them the power to protect Brady. They do a good job and we’re looking forward to a good match-up.”
Jarrett starred at Clemson from 2011-14, which overlaps with the Patriots linemen. Clemson is in the ACC, same with Thuney’s N.C. State and Mason’s Georgia Tech.
Jarrett faced N.C. State three times, amassing 16 tackles, two for loss, and one sack. In those seasons, Thuney was a back-up in 2012, but was the starting left tackle in 2013 and left guard in 2014. Mason defended against Jarrett three times as a right guard. Jarrett collected 18 tackles, including 1 for a loss, and added a fumble recovery.
Clemson also faced Andrews and the University of Georgia in his final two seasons, where he picked up 9 tackles and shared a tackle for loss. Andrews was the starting center for both of those games.
Jarrett believes that the Patriots physicality and teamwork should give him a strong fight. The Patriots line is “a group that plays well together,” Jarrett said. “A really smart group.”
Mason and Thuney are “both physical players,” Jarrett admit. “Shaq is really strong, athletic guy and he does a really good job of what they ask him to [do]. With Thuney being his first year, he’s doing a good job. I’m sure he has good leadership that’s helped him become a better player. They seem like they’re all smart guys and they work well together.”
While Mason has emerged as one of the best guards in the NFL, look for the Falcons to match Jarrett against Thuney, who is still developing as a player. It remains to be seen if there is an advantage granted by such a high degree of familiarity among these players, but this connection and competition is sure to play a factor in the outcome of Super Bowl LI.