I’m ready to call it: Kemal Ishmael is the best Falcons seventh round pick of the last decade, and perhaps the most underrated player they’ve drafted in that span, period.
That may seem like high praise for a player with noted limitations in coverage, but it is true. Ishmael is one of the team’s hardest-hitting, most valuable special teamers even when he’s not seeing the field on defense, and when he does get into the lineup due to injury, he’s a force to be reckoned with. Last week against the Raiders, Ishmael fared pretty well in coverage, put up 15 total tackles, and played well in run support, as always. For his career with Atlanta, Ishmael has 121 tackles, 10 pass deflections, and five interceptions in 38 games with 17 starts.
It’s worth remembering that Ishmael was the second safety drafted in the seventh round back in 2012, with Zeke Motta suffering an injury that wound up effectively ending his career. When you’re one of three seventh rounders, you’re certainly not a lock to make the roster, much less enjoy fourth productive, largely impressive years with the team that drafted you. Ishmael has defied the odds by being fearless and (yes) quite good, and there’s little question that the Falcons would’ve been much worse off with someone else stepping in when William Moore and Keanu Neal suffered injuries, as they have.
I’m writing all this because even for his effective play, Ishmael is probably ticketed for his usual reserve and special teams role when Neal returns, which could be as soon as Week 4. He’s also no lock to be here beyond 2016, so it’s a good time to salute the guy.
Ishmael’s rookie contract is up after this season, and certainly it’s very possible other teams will have strong interest. Dan Quinn wants to put his stamp on this defense and Ishmael may never be a full-time player for Atlanta, but I can’t see a single reason this team would not make a strong push to lock him up.
Let’s hope they do so. The Falcons have four young, talented safeties in Neal, Ishmael, Ricardo Allen and Robenson Therezie, and with the holes elsewhere on the roster, keeping that quartet intact at least over the short term really should be a priority.