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The Falcoholic’s post-draft 2018 roster preview: Safeties

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Fact: Keanu Neal intimidates his own shadow.

Carolina Panthers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Often overlooked when it comes to the success of defenses, the safety position is extremely vital to a defensive unit. The recent improvement of the Falcons young and talented defense can truly be looked upon as a result of reliability at the safety position. As our post-draft roster previews transitions along, let’s take a look at a position that some calls “the quarterback of the defense”.

Keanu Neal

Two years into his NFL career and the former Florida Gator has established himself as one of the most aggressive strong safeties in all of football. Neal earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in his career this past season with 81 tackles, six pass deflections, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 16 games. While it is not a well-recorded stat, Neal’s big hits were a treat to watch this season, especially one in particular against tight end Jimmy Graham and the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10.

Neal made improvements across the board from run defense, pass defense in man coverage, open field tackling, and his ability to read offenses. Neal was very reminiscent of Seattle Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor upon entering the league in the 2016 draft and it was quite clear during the 2017 season that his role in the Falcons defense as an enforcer was naturally made for him. Neal is knocking, no better yet, banging on the door of the top five strong safeties in the NFL, and by the conclusion of the 2018 season, Neal should rightfully be a household name.

Ricardo Allen

When it comes to game-changing talent, Allen may not be one of the first names off the top of your head. However, time after time this season, Allen showed why Falcons head coach Dan Quinn trusted in such an important role on defense.

Allen’s football IQ and awareness pops off the most when discussing his ability. He is often seen getting players in the ideal positions to defend plays. He also, along with Neal saw an improvement in run defense and despite his small stature, Allen is not afraid to get down and dirty and make a play. Allen’s number saw a notable drop-off from 2016 to 2017 (61 tackles to 38) and now the four-year veteran in the midst of a contract situation with an unsigned tender as a restricted free agent this offseason. It appears that the tender will remain unsigned during the offseason and the Falcons may have an interesting circumstance to deal with after the season.

When it comes to Allen, he does not have the freakish athleticism of others on this defense, but he has been reliable for the Falcons since his transition from cornerback to safety. The 2018 season is a key one for Allen and his future in Atlanta.

Damontae Kazee

Here is one reason why the 2018 season will be a key one for Ricardo Allen. The drafting of Kazee pointed to the possibility of Kazee taking over for Allen in the future at the free safety. Year one for Kazee was more of a learning experience as he did not see a ton of play at the safety spot thanks to Allen being healthy and an immovable starter.

Atlanta Falcons v Seattle Seahawk Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Kazee was inserted on special teams and was a key piece to the Falcons postseason win over the Rams in the Wild Card round thanks to his two forced fumbles on kick coverage.

There is no question that Kazee will have a prominent role on this defense in the near future. His versatility to play both slot corner and free safety will always allow him to see playing time as well as his ability to display solid ball skills. Kazee’s promise can make this Falcons secondary even that much more well rounded.

The Rest

The depth here for the Falcons at the safety position is a slight concern. In recent seasons, veteran Kemal Ishmael has seen time at the backup strong safety position but it appears the team has him destined as backup linebacker help. So names to keep in mind here are Quincy Mauger, Chris Lammons, and Secdrick Cooper. Three young talents who will scrap for possibly one roster spot. All three bring a particular trait or two that fits exactly what the Falcons want at the safety position.