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2017 NFL Draft: Adding competition to potentially upgrade at free safety for Atlanta

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Whether it’s competing against Ricardo Allen for the starting job or becoming a utility option, the Falcons could certainly use another free safety.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After addressing critical needs at defensive end and guard, the Falcons can get creative and take chances on prospects at positions that may not have a long-term solution. Defensive tackle was the first position mentioned on the list. With several players on the final year of their contract or one-year “prove it” deals, the front office should be prepared to draft another big body on the inside.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the free safety position. It’s not a pressing need. What can be considered is drafting a possible upgrade at a key spot in Dan Quinn’s defense. Ricardo Allen has developed into a steady starter. The former fifth round pick is a consistent tackler, who possesses great awareness and overall instincts. His strong work ethic deserves praise as well.

The Falcons’ defense is filled with promising young talent. There aren’t many positions that could be upgraded at the moment. Drafting six productive defensive starters or key contributors in the past two seasons makes it difficult for a team to bring in new starters. It can be argued that free safety could use some competition based on Allen’s ceiling. He doesn’t have great speed or size for the position. That can be an issue under Quinn’s Cover 3 scheme.

Allen can only cover so much ground at such a demanding position. With an inconsistent pass rush and inexperienced back seven, coverage breakdowns are bound to occur. Allen was rarely responsible for the big plays being allowed. There weren’t many moments that showed him making up for a teammate’s mistake. This may be viewed as a harsh critique. When you are playing as a single high safety, there are going to be instances when the safety needs to make or prevent a big play.

Unless it was making a touchdown saving tackle, Allen didn’t make those particular plays. The third-year safety is a disciplined player that knows how to do his job. Can he cover acres of space and develop into a playmaker? That doesn’t seem to be the case, which is why Quinn may look to replace him. Many people like to bring up Earl Thomas, who Quinn coached for two seasons in Seattle. It would take an extraordinary player to replicate what Thomas can do in coverage. It’s not about finding the next Thomas. It’s about finding a capable single-high center fielder that has range and fits their agenda of wanting athletic specimens.

Allen is going to be a restricted free agent in 2018. That will likely keep him in Atlanta, but it may not guarantee a starting job. There has been some discussion about moving Brian Poole to free safety. A hard-hitting corner that excels in zone coverage could make the transition. Regardless of how the coaching staff moves forward, drafting a free safety in the third or fourth round would be a reasonable decision. Add competition to a position that could use some actual depth. It could lead to finding a playmaker that adds another special element to the Falcons’ rapidly improving defense.