In Seattle, Dan Quinn had the luxury of trotting out Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas as his starting safeties, a luxury that made everyone's job on defense a lot easier. In Atlanta, he still has the gifted William Moore manning one safety spot, but the question of who will play free safety for this team is a bedeviling one.
That's mostly because of the options available. Dezmen Southward was drafted to be the heir apparent at free safety under Mike Smith last year, but Quinn appears ready to move him to cornerback, where is size and athleticism hopefully translates into effectiveness. Because of that, the Falcons now have only Charles Godfrey, Kemal Ishmael and Sean Baker as legitimate starting options at free safety, assuming (as I am) that Moore is staying at strong safety.
I like Ishmael a lot, but his deep coverage skills were not impressive last year, and he wouldn't seem to be a long-term answer at the position unless that changes. Ideally, Ishmael would probably be Moore's direct backup and perhaps the third safety, because he also is a big hitter who is a special teams asset. Godfrey has been a solid safety for years, but was ineffective and played sparingly for the Panthers and Falcons last year coming off a major injury. Baker is really more of an effective special teamer who can play safety in a pinch. The Falcons really need to add talent, in other words.
The question is where they're going to get that talent. This is not an inspiring safety class, rookie-wise, and almost all the top safety options are now off the market. The Falcons were reportedly in on Ron Parker and Darian Stewart, but both are off the market. Vaughn McClure talked with Dwight Lowery and found the Falcons have yet to contact him, and so we're left to wonder what the plan is at a position that requires the ability to man center field in Quinn's defense.
Stopgaps abound, and at this point the Falcons will probably just stay patient and wait for the best possible deal. They could grab a useful safety like Stevie Brown a little later on, hope a decent option shakes loose in roster cuts from other teams or simply roll on with Godfrey and Ishmael competing for a job. No matter what they wind up doing—my money's on an option from the draft, class strength be damned—the position will likely be a little bit of a liability in 2015. Unfortunately.
It's fair to argue that the Falcons could have overspent on a guy like Parker to put a more permanent stamp on the position, but the path is well-established at this point. Hope for competence at free safety and improvement nearly everywhere else, and we may just see a decent defense this year.