In rather unsurprising news on Wednesday, the Atlanta Falcons have listed Duke Riley and Damontae Kazee as starters on their official team depth chart ahead of Sunday’s Week 2 matchup against the Carolina Panthers.
Riley was the logical guess as to who would be Deion Jones’ replacement at the middle linebacker position, following news that Jones would be placed on Injured Reserve with a foot injury. Riley has had an up and down professional career so far, but he does bring some valuable experience to the table, having started six games last season. Sixth-round pick Foye Oluokun should also see an increased role on defense following injury.
Kazee, who was arguably the most impressive Falcon in the preseason, is Keanu Neal’s replacement at the free safety position with Ricardo Allen shifting to the strong safety role, following Neal’s ACL tear in the Week 1 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Newly signed Keith Tandy is listed as his backup, though Jordan Richards may mix in there later in the year.
Riley was selected near the top of the third round in the 2017 NFL Draft, with Kazee being taken two rounds later the next day. Coming into the season, they were always going to be the contingency plan at the linebacker and safety positions, respectively. Now, the Falcons have broken glass in case of emergency, and have propelled their two 2017 draft picks into key, longterm, starting roles.
Deion Jones is expected to return sometime later this season, but isn’t eligible to do so until at least Week 11. Head coach Dan Quinn has sung Duke Riley’s praises all offseason, and will now need his sophomore linebacker to step up his game and play better than he did last year.
Keanu Neal won’t return at all this season, so Damontae Kazee will serve as the full-time starting safety for the rest of the year. He had a very good performance in Week 1, following Neal’s injury, and will look to continue building on a stellar preseason.
Damontae Kazee will start at the free safety position according to the team, with Ricardo Allen shifting to strong safety. This change has been reflected in the article.