DeCoud entered the league as a highly-touted safety prospect who played free and strong safety at California, as well as cornerback. The Falcons drafted him in the third round with an eye on making him a starter sooner than later. He was noted for his awareness, willingness to tackle and coverage instincts in general, but scouts also noted that he had real problems with closing speed, angles and open field tackling. We'll come back to that.
When he was drafted, I projected him as a possible starter at strong safety down the line, noting that reputation as a strong tackler and musing that his skill set would be a nice fit for the position. This was before William Moore was in Atlanta, but obviously I misread how the Falcons would come to view him. I particularly misjudged his ball skills.
In 2008, DeCoud played in ten games a special teamer and reserve, doing very little. It was the classic rookie season for a rookie, but I was high on his potential and projected him as a starter heading into 2009. He would start nearly every game for the Falcons for the next five seasons.
DeCoud's two best years in Atlanta were likely 2009 (68 tackles, 7 pass deflections, three picks and two forced fumbles) and 2012 (nine pass deflections, 6 picks). When he was playing well, DeCoud was a gambler in the classic sense of the word, someone who relied on his athleticism to jump routes and close in on opposing receivers and tight ends. Moore was the bigger hitter of the safety duo, sure, but when the turnovers were coming DeCoud was dangerous as hell.
The problems came when the turnovers dried up, because you could no longer ignore that the scouts' major concerns about DeCoud's angles, open field tackling and angles to the ball never disappeared. In 2013, a season where he managed no interceptions and only two pass deflections, DeCoud's fit in the Falcons' defensive scheme and poor play made him one of the fans' biggest scapegoats for a terrible season.
Unfortunately, DeCoud's fun-loving personality worked against him in a down year, because fans don't want to see smiling and laughing players when things are going poorly, no matter how little relevance that has to performance and effort. The Falcons had structured DeCoud's contract in such a way that they could afford to cut ties with him in 2014 if he had a poor 2013, but could certainly afford to keep him around if he made some strides in coverage and continued to churn out turnovers. The former happened, and so he's gone.
DeCoud provided two-to-three good seasons for the Falcons, one mediocre one and one truly terrible one. It's worth remembering that some of his turnovers changed the outcomes of football games, and that for his real flaws DeCoud delivered a ton of value for a third-round pick. It's understandable to want him gone, given the cap savings and frustrating 2013 season, but it's also worth remembering that DeCoud had some terrific plays and held down the fort at free safety for five seasons. He's not leaving on the best terms and with justification, but that's the NFL.
Fare thee well, Thomas DeCoud.