The Atlanta Falcons potentially created a void at the safety position when they released William Moore earlier this month, which will likely be filled at some point this offseason.
Yet the team could opt to go with a couple of in-house candidates to replace Moore at strong safety. Kemal Ishmael and Robenson Therezie represent two young options that might be worth developing for the future.
Ishmael has filled in capably for Moore in the past, yet there are still lingering questions over his ability to be an effective, full-time starter for 16 games. Ishmael has bulked up to over 220 pounds, solidifying his ability as a productive defender in run support, where his reliable tackling is an asset. But he still has too many lapses in coverage, lacking the ideal speed and range to be effective there despite the occasional big play.
Therezie flashed potential when he replaced an injured Ricardo Allen during portions of last season at free safety. He offers more coverage ability than Ishmael, but has at times struggled in run support. Asking him to play up in the box as the strong safety often does in Dan Quinn’s defensive scheme might push him beyond his limits.
Ideally the Falcons will be able to find someone that combines the skillsets of both players, having Ishmael’s toughness and ability to come downhill as an enforcer against the run, but also possessing the range and ability in coverage to be able to handle tight ends, which was the biggest weakness of Moore during his time in Atlanta.
Charles Godfrey helped in that latter capacity down the stretch, given his past experience as a cornerback. But he’s an impending free agent and probably won’t be seen as anything more than an emergency option for the Falcons, the same exact function he served last year after he was cut twice during the regular season. His only extensive reps came down the stretch mostly as an injury fill-in. The team will likely only bring him back if they can’t find a better option either via free agency of the draft.
If the Falcons target a veteran on the open market to replace Moore, one potential candidate could be Cincinnati Bengals’ strong safety George Iloka. He offers the size and coverage ability that could mark him as an upgrade over either incumbent currently on the Falcons roster.
After him, the top strong safeties are dotted with less than proven options like Denver’s David Bruton, who has spent the bulk of his career as a quality reserve and special teams player. Bruton has done well when asked to fill in for injured players in the past, but his own ability to hold up for 16 games as a starter is questionable especially coming off a season where he suffered a broken leg.
If the team cannot snag a more proven player like Iloka, it might make more sense to target a younger option with upside in the draft. Especially given the relatively short shelf life that NFL safeties tend to have, an early-round pick would give the team more long-term production moving forward.
In contrast, the Falcons are likely to stand pat at free safety with starter Ricardo Allen for another year. If for no other reason than the team has a wealth of other more pressing needs on the defensive roster and Allen proved himself capable in his first year as a starter. It was an admirable performance given that he was converting from cornerback and didn’t play a single snap in 2014 due to spending most of the season on the Falcons practice squad. Yet Allen did have a few lapses, particularly when it came to defending the run and questions still abound over whether his lack of ideal size will continue to be a limitation there.
Thankfully his primary role is to patrol the center field in coverage, which is a skill that wasn’t lacking in 2015 when he led the team with three interceptions. The Falcons could potentially upgrade over him with an early-round pick or a splash free-agent signing, but as noted earlier, it isn’t necessary unless they absolutely fall in love with someone.
That would likely only come if the Falcons’ coaching staff believed that Allen has already peaked. He certainly should be better mentally with another year to adjust to his new position, but one wonders if his size and speed limitations will prevent him from growing physically as a starter.
Only time will tell with the team’s primary focus this offseason centering on at least adding some competition for the vacant strong safety position. The most likely course of action is that the Falcons will add someone either via the draft or free agency that they feel is ready to take the job outright, making it one of the more pressing priorities to start the offseason.