Nominally, there may be three men competing for the Falcons’ starting free safety job. There’s a gifted rookie, a second year defensive back who showed considerable potential in his first year, and the man who started almost two full seasons worth of games from 2015-2016. I’m betting on the last man.
So why am I writing this up? Because there remains a small chance that Damontae Kazee, a defensive back who is as hyped as any fifth round pick in recent memory, could steal this thing away this year. He will, in all likelihood, make it interesting enough to look forward to 2018.
So here’s a breakdown of a battle that shouldn’t be much of a battle. Let’s see how it ends.
Ricardo Allen: 30 career starts, 2014 fifth round draft pick
Damontae Kazee: 0 career starts, 2017 fifth round draft pick
Brian Poole: 9 career starts, 2016 undrafted free agents
This is, potentially, a three man battle. It will not stay one for very long, as I mentioned. Allen is the obvious favorite precisely because he’s so experienced, having started most of the games at free safety over the past two seasons. Kazee will be good and Poole already is, but it’s telling that Dan Quinn and company haven’t come out and said anything about an open competition for a while now.
This one should be settled relatively early, regardless of what Kazee does. Allen is an established starter, and a capable one, and he would need to be hurt or crumbling for this team to hand his job to someone else in the 2017 season, especially a rookie. We don’t yet know how the team plans to utilize Kazee or Poole, either, and if neither is a full-time safety, that’s pretty much that. Expect Allen to be officially named as the starter after Week 4 of preseason, but it should be evident a lot earlier than that.
It’s Allen’s job. What’s worth watching is whether Kazee or Poole mounts a serious enough challenge for us to re-visit this same question with less certainty in 2018, the last year where Allen will be a restricted free agent and not getting paid the contract he is most certainly due. So long as Rico’s healthy, this shouldn’t be much of a battle at all, making right guard and linebacker the most intriguing spots to consider. I’m not ruling out a truly impressive, job-stealing effort from Kazee, but it’s not the likeliest outcome.