Safety is a position that is consistently undervalued, which is a shame. Elite safeties can help you out in coverage against tight ends, pump the brakes on opposing running games and make big plays. Poor safeties will get you killed.
The Falcons have one of the better safety tandems in the NFL today...but there's not much behind them. Thomas DeCoud and William Moore's struggles against tight ends in the playoffs will be forever held against them, I suspect, but it does nothing to tarnish their deserved reputation as big-play safeties.
Let's break it down.
Starter: Thomas DeCoud
2012 stats: 76 tackles, 1 sack, 6 interceptions, 9 pass deflections
There's a little bit of a riverboat gambler in DeCoud, who has a knack for coming up with big plays but can be burnt because of it. That's about the worst thing you can say about him.
The 28-year-old safety was not respected coming into 2012 owing to that fact and his propensity for whiffing on the occasional tackle, but while those issues are real, they ignore what DeCoud brings to the table. He's useful in run support, reads opposing quarterbacks well and generally can keep up with opposing tight ends quite well. DeCoud's perception issues stem from the few big plays he gives up, not his overall body of work.
He may not be exactly an elite free safety, but he's a very good one, and he's young enough that he'll continue to play at a high level in 2008. Throw in his durability and you've got yourself a quality player.
Starter: William Moore
2012 stats: 75 tackles, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 8 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles
Moore's chief problem is injury. He's only played 16 games once in his career, which has kept him from being recognized as the elite safety he really is. The Falcons just paid him for his talent, not his history.
There's no denying that when Moore is on the field, he makes things happen. Moore's one of the team's most ferocious tacklers, even if he misses a couple, and like DeCoud he has a knack for coming up with big plays. The two combined for 10 interceptions in 2013, and that's about the level of production I expect in 2013. He may not be truly elite in coverage, but Moore is one of the best safeties in the game today.
Assuming his legal issue goes away without a suspension, pencil Moore in for a huge year.
Reserve: Charles Mitchell
2012 stats: 1 tackle
Mitchell is a player I like quite a bit. He was a sure tackler in college and someone who kept plays in front of him, and he certainly was a core special teamer in 2012. The problem is that we don't really know how he'd fare if pressed into a starting job, which is a distinct possibility with this team.
For 2013, Mitchell's a potential spot starter, quality special teamer and full-time backup. He's only had limited snaps, but I've liked what I've seen so far.
Reserve: Shann Schillinger
Schillinger may not be long for this roster. A useful special teams tackler, Schillinger has never done much as a safety and will be fighting for his job in 2013. I'm not bullish on his prospects.
This is the one position on the roster, aside from wide receiver, where the Falcons are extremely strong at the top of the depth chart and pretty weak behind it. You don't need more than two quality backup safeties, but with Moore's injury history and Mike Nolan's propensity for using three safeties, the Falcons probably need to add one more in the draft.