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Can Kemal Ishmael Start At Free Safety - A Scouting Report Roundup

After injuries to Dwight Lowery and Dezmen Southward, the Falcons have a hodgepodge of players who may play at free safety, with the 243rd pick of 2013 draft the current favorite.

Kemal Ishmael not shying away from contact.
Kemal Ishmael not shying away from contact.
Rob Carr

We could talk about injuries all day. Actually, that is just about all I have seemed to talk about the last few days. Lets just sum up that Dwight Lowery is likely out multiple weeks and Dezmen Southward is both injured and extremely raw. Mike Smith discussed cross-training some cornerbacks as free safeties, but realistically guys like Robert McClain would need at least a few weeks before moving into the starting rotation.

Currently, Kemal Ishmael has not only reminded everyone he is on the roster but is also performing surprisingly well.

He is running with the first team defense. The craziest part is that by all accounts, he has looked pretty impressive.

In fact, the Falcoholic's own Jeanna Thomas, who has covered training camp, had some interesting things to say about Ishmael.

Ishmael is a sure tackler who is solid in run support and developing good coverage skills. [He is not a] "playmaker" but he looks a lot more comfortable out there than he did last preseason. It's clear that he understands where he's supposed to be and he never gets yelled at for being out of position.

So who is the 5-foot-11, 201 pound defensive back with 4.63 speed?

The Falcons selected two safeties back-to-back with 7th round picks, Ishmael from UCF and Zeke Motta from Notre Dame. When Thomas DeCoud was benched last season, he was replaced with Motta. When both Motta and DeCoud were injured, Ishmael was active but only played three defensive snaps in all of 2013.

Aaron Freeman of had this to say about Ishmael.

A four-year starter that started 49 consecutive games over his career at UCF at free safety. Ishmael was a highly productive run-defending safety that was a tackling machine during his days in school. He led the Golden Knights defense in tackles in his last three years, culminating in a senior year where he had career highs in every statistical category. He had a knack for making plays, including a total of 6 turnovers (3 interceptions and 3 forced fumbles). He set the school record for career tackles among defensive backs. A player that lacks ideal NFL measurables, but managed to get by with toughness, work ethic, and leadership.

Statistically, Ishmael did really well, but Mr. Freeman summed up his scouting report by saying Ishmael lacks the size and speed you would look for in an NFL starter, comparing him to Jamaal Fudge. If that name sort of rings a bell, it is probably because of the number of jokes made about his name while he bounced around the roster early in the Mike Smith era. Hardly a ringing endorsement, but it sounded like he could fill in at strong safety.

NFLDraft101 and NFL Draft Scout expected Ishmael to be comfortably undrafted. Granted, he was just barely drafted, but as you might imagine, not a lot of people had positive things to say about Ishmael. However, the website seemed to really like him after his play at the Beef 'O' Brady's bowl.

-Eager to run up and make a play
-Seems to be launching himself; missing some tackles because of it
-On the first play of the second half he correctly reads the option play, wraps up and rips the ball out of the RB’s arms
-Has a good sense of timing and rhythm; hits the receivers as soon as they go to catch the ball, no sooner, no later
-Takes notice of the deep man and immediately helps out his CB’s while keeping his eyes on the QB
-In single coverage vs. the TE on a seam route, sticks with him and knocks the ball out of his hands, violent deflection skills
-Has a very fast play-style, quick decision maker and likes to lay the big hits when given the chance

Overview: Kemal Ishmael was the glue that held this defense together in the matchup against Ball St. The free safety flew all over the field making plays and preventing Ball St. from getting into a rhythm. Ishmael is very solid in man coverage and he is a very instinctive tackler, forcing five fumbles on the season.

Endzone Report also believed Ishmael would get drafted after his performance at the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

Ishmael did not get an invite to the NFL Combine, instead competing at the Regional Combine, and has been more on the fringe of the roster than competing for playing time. Still, some evaluators have really liked him. liked Ishmael as a potential fourth-round selection.

Among DBs, Ishmael was third in the nation in tackles in 2012. That fact was part of the reason he was voted as the 2012 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. As a team captain, Ishmael led by example via a high motor. He works well through traffic, he has textbook tackling form, takes perfect pursuit angles, he displays a smooth backpedal and clean footwork, and he's pretty solid in man coverage. Among the safeties in this class, Ishmael has been the most underrated throughout the draft process.

If Ishmael can be the player some of these evaluators saw at the bowl game, it sounds very likely that he could push for playing time with all of the injuries and uncertainty ahead of him on the depth chart. At the very least, we will get a good look at him with the starters in Atlanta's first preseason game.