Continuing the countdown of the top 40 players on the Atlanta Falcons, let’s break down the 32nd best player in safety Kemal Ishmael.
To read about the methodology in how these rankings came about, you can click here.
Total Score: 43.5/100
Last year’s rank: N/A
Player Grade: 49/100
Teams he is starter: 4 out of 32
Teams he is best position player: 0 out of 32
Teams he is role player: 20 out of 32
Peak-Year Bonus: +4
Positional Bonus: +3
Last season, the Falcons opted to roll the dice with Kemal Ishmael as the team’s primary backup at safety thanks in large part to what was perceived as improved play during the summer. There’s certainly no denying that Ishmael was an improved player that looked the part as a NFL safety in 2014, but hindsight (and foresight) says that his limitations contributed to an area of weakness that plagued the team throughout the season as the Falcons ranked dead last in pass defense.
Ishmael’s strengths are being able to play the run with an aggressiveness and fierceness only exceeded by William Moore, and that’s probably only by a slight margin. But a year ago, Ishmael was forced to play a role that saw him acting as a center fielder and coverage guy thanks to the Falcons’ lack of quality depth at safety. Ishmael struggled in that role, particularly during the middle portion of the year where breakdowns on deep balls seemed to be a regular occurrence for the defense.
Ishmael did improve there as the year wore on, but not giving up a 50-yard touchdown every week shouldn’t be considered a huge accomplishment in the NFL. Thus it’s not a coincidence that the Falcons quickly established Ricardo Allen as their preferred option at free safety upon new head coach Dan Quinn’s arrival since that position will be asked to play deep coverage most downs.
Now Ishmael can revert to back where he works best, which is as a thumping run-defender behind Moore. Ishmael works well in short areas and nearest the line of scrimmage where his lack of top speed and range aren’t exposed as easily. He’s one of the surest tacklers on the defense and may finally be getting the opportunity to shine on special teams that was predicted when he was first drafted.
Despite his shortcomings in coverage, Ishmael could still have a bright future in Atlanta. Moore is no spring chicken and there is a high probability that 2016 will be his last season with the Falcons. Ishmael has two years left on his rookie contract, which should give him time to prove to Quinn’s staff that he’s the in-house heir apparent to Moore.
Ishmael is more than capable of becoming that player, but just needs to continue to show growth from last year. He’ll need to become better in coverage and continue to be an impact defender against the run. If he can do those things in 2015, then there may be a time when the struggles of 2014 will be a distant memory based on the player that Ishmael can become.