Ricardo Allen should be the starting free safety in 2017. I’ve conceded multiple times that he might be pushed for his job, and there is a remote possibility he’ll be pushed out of it. After he played at a high level again in 2016, though, that is a remote possibility.
His future as a starter, though? That’s less clear.
The team’s plans at the position appear more clear to me in the here and now than they did a few weeks ago, though. The Falcons have shown genuine interest in players like Obi Melifonwu, Budda Baker, and Keanu Neal’s former teammate Marcus Mayes, all of whom just so happen to play safety. All of them should come off the board in the first four rounds or so, and any one of them could be the team’s starting free safety in a couple of seasons.
The question inevitably becomes why the Falcons are so keen on acquiring more safeties. The answer likely lies at the intersection of the team’s depleted depth, Allen’s increasing proximity to a starter’s contract, and Dan Quinn’s desire to get his players in the door. It’s not an accident that there are already very few holdovers from the Mike Smith era on defense, and it says a lot about Allen’s talent and drive that he’s held on to a starting job as Quinn’s set about remaking the defense. But in a solid safety class, with an eye on saving money in the future, this will probably be the year Atlanta ponies up another draft pick.
I still firmly believe Allen will be the starter in 2017, as I said, but I also think the Falcons aren’t sniffing around safeties purely as a backup plan. I think your future starting free safety is coming in this draft class, unless Allen can do what he’s done all this time and defy the odds to hold on to his starting job over the long haul.
The question is less whether the Falcons will draft a safety and more when, so stay tuned to see. My guess is that the fourth round will be the sweet spot.