Alas, the end of our 2017 Atlanta Falcons Roster Review is finally approaching. There are still a few more position groups to cover, including today’s topic: the safeties. If you happened to miss any of the previous entries in the series, you can find them all below:
The safety group appears to be strong at both starting positions, with Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen manning SS and FS, respectively. However, things get a little dicey when factoring in the contract status of players like Allen and Kemal Ishmael. Below, we break down each of these players to get a better idea of the safety group heading into 2018.
2017 Stats: 116 tackles, 6 PD, 1 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries
2018 Status: Under contract ($2.9M cap hit)
Neal is one of the NFL’s best strong safeties and has been an absolute stud for the Falcons since they drafted him in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Known for his physicality and punishing hits, Neal is also adept in coverage—particularly on TEs, where he kept top-tier players like Rob Gronkowski in check. Neal is entering his third season and remains one of the best defensive players on the team. Atlanta is lucky to have him under contract for the foreseeable future.
2017 Stats: 54 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT
2018 Status: RFA
Perhaps the best example of the differences in coaching style between Quinn and Smith, Ricardo Allen was drafted as a CB in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and subsequently cut by the Falcons under Smith’s tenure. He was brought back to the practice squad for a season before Quinn took over and tried him at safety. Allen has been an above-average starter at FS ever since, and is one of the leaders of the secondary. He’s not a spectacular athlete, but makes up for it with very good instincts and football IQ. Allen is a restricted free agent heading into 2018 and could be a candidate for a long-term deal.
2017 Stats: 23 tackles, 2 forced fumbles
2018 Status: Under contract ($627K cap hit)
One of the Falcons’ fifth round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, Damontae Kazee came into camp as a CB before being cross-trained at safety. Kazee is a ballhawk and a surprisingly good tackler, with the added benefit of being able to play both free safety and nickel CB. Kazee will likely get the chance to compete for a starting role this offseason, but otherwise provides great depth and special teams ability.
2017 Stats: 29 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 PD, 1 fumble recovery
2018 Status: UFA
Ishmael originally came to the Falcons as a seventh round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. He’s held on to a roster spot ever since, first as the primary back-up at strong safety and now as a converted LB/safety hybrid. Ishmael is an excellent tackler, but struggles mightily in coverage. He’s a quality reserve and special teams piece that can help out in several areas. Ishmael is a free agent heading into 2018, but could likely be re-signed for a reasonable deal.
2017 Stats: 2 tackles
2018 Status: ERFA
An UDFA in 2016, Neasman spent time on the practice squad before being elevated to the active roster in October of that year. Ever since, Neasman has occupied the role of “fifth safety”, which is primarily a special teams contributor that occasionally comes in during special packages. Neasman has been solid during his very limited playing time, but hasn’t made much noise otherwise. He’s an ERFA in 2018, meaning the Falcons will almost certainly keep him around for at least one more season.
Perhaps the most well-rounded position group on the roster, safety is a position of strength for the Falcons heading into 2018. Atlanta is set at both starting spots—assuming Allen returns, either on an RFA tender or an extension—and has promising depth pieces behind them. Overall, the Falcons have to be pretty comfortable with where they’re sitting at this point in the offseason.
Keanu Neal is among the best at his position in the entire NFL, and his development into a high-level player in coverage has been a tremendous boon to the secondary. Ricardo Allen is an above-average player that is a vocal leader—he’s not ever going to be Earl Thomas, but he’ll get the job done and shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive. Kazee has a lot of potential, both as a nickel CB and a potential FS, and will be inexpensive for years to come.
The question marks lie with the other two players on the roster. Ishmael is a free agent, and while he has never been a starting-caliber option, his strong tackling and versatile skillset make him a player worth keeping around. Price will be the only issue. Neasman is cheap and young, with some interesting athletic traits, but could be improved upon with a late draft pick. All things considered, the Falcons are in very good shape with their safeties and secondary as a whole.
What are your thoughts on the Falcons’ safety group? Is Neal the best strong safety in the NFL? Should the Falcons give Allen a long-term extension? Are Ishmael or Neasman going to make the roster in 2018?