Finding the Fit: Safety
Safety is the lone area on the defensive side of the ball that isn’t a significant need for the Falcons. The team has invested in the position the past two drafts with Thomas DeCoud and Willliam Moore, and instead will concentrate their efforts on developing those two.
DeCoud had a breakout year as the team’s free safety, in large part due to an injury suffered by Moore in training camp. DeCoud’s ability in coverage, range, and playmaking abilities seem to improve as the season wore on. Moore missed much of camp with a nagging hamstring injury and also had his knee scoped. He eventually came back about a month into the season, but then had a more serious hamstring issue come up and missed the rest of the year.
Erik Coleman was the starting strong safety, but Coleman didn’t have as productive a year there as he did in 2008 at free safety. And it’s likely the team will have him and Moore competing directly for that job this summer.
The only real issue at safety is depth. But veteran corner Brian Williams also has experience playing both safety positions, and in a pinch could be a decent option if he is retained. Antoine Harris, Charlie Peprah, and Jamaal Fudge are also on the roster, but are essentially special teams players. The team could target a reserve safety that has more upside on defense and push those players off the roster.
1. Range – The Falcons play a lot of Cover-2, and state their safeties are interchangeable. So the biggest asset to have in that scheme is safeties being able to cover a lot of ground in both defending the pass and run.
2. Ball Skills – In Cover-2, safeties not only need to have the speed and range to cover ground, but also the ball skills and instincts to make plays when they arrive where they need to be. They want guys that can make plays.
3. Coverage – The only way reserve safeties can get regular opportunities on defense is if they can impact on coverage in dime packages. When the team tries to max out its coverage packages, if this player is considered an asset in coverage, then he’ll have a chance.
4. Tackling – Since this safety is likely to be a backup and play mostly on special teams, this ability won’t be a huge priority. But if/when they get the opportunity to play on regular defense, they cannot be considered a liability vs. the run.
Most of the guys that will fit the Falcons description will be free safeties in college, since those players tend to have the range, speed, and coverage potential. And because the Falcons will only be looking at depth, it’s unlikely they will spend a pick in their first four rounds on such a player.
Kendrick Lewis (Ole Miss), Robert Johnson (Utah), Robert Vaughn (UConn), and Van Eskridge (ECU) are all college free safeties that figure to be taken after the fourth round of the draft. All four lack ideal size for a safety, but possess good speed, ball skills, and flashed playmaking ability when often working in deep coverage. Lewis and Johnson are the better of the group in run support.
Two strong safeties that project better at free safety in the pro are Kurt Coleman (Ohio State) and Kyle McCarthy (Notre Dame). Both are instinctual players that show good ability to be in the right place at the right time in coverage. Coleman is aggressive, but undersized while McCarthy lacks ideal speed and range.
The Final Verdict
There really isn’t much need for depth at this position. Coleman can play either spot, and WIlliams could also serve as an emergency fill-in if need be. And likely between Peprah, Harris, and Fudge, assuming all are brought back, somebody should emerge through competition as a decent option.
But there may be a point in the sixth or seventh round where the Falcons have address most of their major holes and are looking at the best player available. And there’s a chance it could be a safety. And if so, a player like Lewis or Vaughn make sense.