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What is the impact of the Falcons trade for Jordan Richards?

Meet your new fourth safety, who may become a key special teamer in short order. Plus a scouting report from Pats Pulpit.

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons trade for Jordan Richards will probably go down as the surprise of roster cut weekend for this team. It was a completely unexpected move, one that had immediate repercussions and is worth breaking down in more detail.

So let’s do that right now.

Where does Jordan Richards fit in?

Opinions on Ron Parker’s preseason success were divided. I thought he had a fairly rough preseason, all told, with that missed tackle against the Dolphins and some coverage miscues that were really only noteworthy because they came against deep reserves. I wouldn’t have blamed the Falcons if they had shrugged that off, given Parker’s veteran status and track record, and kept him as the fourth safety.

They didn’t, and it might have been because what Parker brought to the table wasn’t what they wanted by the end of preseason. Richards is undeniably a worse option in coverage than Parker, and it would be fair to suggest that he’s an inferior defender in general. But he is a capable special teamer, and the Falcons have been hellbent on assembling a group of those this offseason. With the team set to find as much time as they possibly can for Damontae Kazee, chances are good that Richards will only have a handful of snaps per game and as many as he can handle on special teams.

The Falcons will hope they can coax better things out of him as a safety, and they’ll have to really hope they don’t need to rely on him as a defender before they get there. But for the price of a conditional seventh rounder in 2020, they’ve added yet another interesting ST option for a unit that also added Russell Gage and Justin Bethel this offseason, and a safety with at least some upside.

What was he like as a Patriot?

Pats Pulpit, our drunk on success Patriots site here at SB Nation, was kind enough to give us a pretty detailed look at what Richards brings to the table from the perspective of someone who has watched him play for years. Here’s Pats Pulpit editor Bernd Buchmasser on Richards, who was fighting for a roster spot this summer.

Richards is an interesting case. Many thought the Patriots overdrafted when they took him in the second round, but he was praised for his smarts coming out of Stanford. However, he failed to take the next step in New England as his lack of athleticism proved to be a problem.

While the Patriots tried using him as a strong safety/linebacker hybrid (like Patrick Chung) over the years, he failed to produce in this role and was therefore mostly used as a special teamer. He was serviceable in the kicking game, but saw irregular defensive playing time as New England’s fourth safety.

And even when he was given the opportunity on defense, he was far too inconsistent and at times had really bad with mental errors and technique issues. The Patriots really wanted to make it work which tells me that they saw something in him after all, but it never really worked out.

The sense that you get here is that Richards was a bit of a draft bust, and the lack of athleticism is a particularly concerning note given that the Falcons typically prize it. It’s wise to keep expectations manageable in light of everything we know about him, but as I noted above, the Falcons presumably have a plan that doesn’t involve exposing him to a ton of playing time on defense in 2018.

We’ll find out if the compensation, meager as it is, was a worthwhile investment or a very small mistake. Obviously, we all hope the former.