Imagine how Jermaine Grace felt when the Falcons told him he made their 53 man roster in 2017. Elated? Check. Redeemed? Check. Victorious? Emphatic check. Because let’s be honest, but for some off the field issues at the University of Miami, Grace could’ve been selected on the second day of the draft. Instead his collegiate career came to an abrupt end and he was left to wonder whether his dream of playing in the NFL was still in the cards. Grace had a choice to make: try to get reinstated or try to go pro. He chose the latter, trusting that he had what it took to make that leap.
I remember the 2017 preseason well. There was a sense that the Falcons had lucked upon a diamond in the rough in Grace. The Falcons simply couldn’t afford to try to let him clear waivers. Unfortunately, just like a lot of camp standouts that find themselves on NFL rosters, Grace found himself on the outside looking in as he sought to secure playing time and the Falcons released him after five games. After stops with the Colts, Browns, and Seahawks, Grace earned a second chance with the Falcons in 2018, landing back on their practice squad in October and earning a futures contract in December.
Grace’s predicament now is figuring out how to stand out in a crowded linebacker corps. Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell, and Foyesade Oluokun are penciled in as the starters. And Bruce Carter, Duke Riley, Kemal Ishmael, and UDFA Tre’ Crawford are all in the mix as backups. OTAs just kicked off Monday, and a lot can change between now and the end of August, but Grace’s path forward, while not blocked, is littered with obstacles.
Grace has put on approximately 15 pounds over the last two years. He came into the league looking like a strong safety and now he’s got a true linebacker build. And effort is certain to be a non-issue, given Grace’s uncanny knack for drawing attention from NFL teams over the last two seasons. One would think this is a true competition, and if I were Carter or Ishmael, I’d have my head on a swivel. Grace has youth on his side. (He’s three years younger than Ishmael and six years younger than Carter.) Plus we know head coach Dan Quinn has zeroed in on safety depth this off-season, so if Grace can show the coaching staff his versatility, that only increases his chances.
In short, Grace is going to have every opportunity to make this team again in 2019. Given his youth, versatility, and talent, he may even find an easier path to playing time this time around. He needs to be a true standout on special teams and find a way to eclipse a couple other members of the linebacker corps. If he does that, a spot on the 53 man roster awaits.
Your thoughts, Falcoholics?