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The evolution of the Falcons S position, 2008-2018

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Willy Mo to Keanu Neal and everyone in between.

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears

The Falcons safety duo today is a terrific one, assuming both players are healthy. Ricardo Allen brings a well-rounded, underrated game to the table, while Keanu Neal is the turnover machine and physical presence the secondary requires.

This isn’t the first time the Falcons had a duo we said similar things about over the last decade-plus, either. For a brief, shining moment from 2010-2012 or so, Thomas DeCoud and William Moore looked like those guys. The fanbase soured on DeCoud, who earned a reputation for not being physical enough and making too many mistakes, and Moore was eventually ruined by injuries. But for a little while there, the Falcons seemed to have their own elite tandem, which is a reminder how quickly those things can go up in smoke.

As we eagerly await to see how Allen and Neal heal up, it’s worth looking back at what the Falcons had in place before them.

Falcons Safeties

Year FS SS S3 S4 S5 S6
Year FS SS S3 S4 S5 S6
2008 Lawyer Milloy Erik Coleman Thomas DeCoud Jamaal Fudge Antoine Harris
2009 Thomas DeCoud Erik Coleman William Moore Jamaal Fudge Eric Brock Charlie Peprah
2010 Thomas DeCoud William Moore Erik Coleman Shann Schillinger Rafael Bush
2011 Thomas DeCoud William Moore James Sanders Shann Schillinger
2012 Thomas DeCoud William Moore Chris Hope Charles Mitchell
2013 Thomas DeCoud William Moore Zeke Motta Shann Schillinger Kemal Ishmael
2014 Dwight Lowery William Moore* Kemal Ishmael Dezmen Southward Sean Baker
2015 Ricardo Allen William Moore Kemal Ishmael Robenson Therezie Dezmen Southward
2016 Ricardo Allen Keanu Neal Kemal Ishmael Robenson Therezie Sharrod Neasman Dashon Goldson
2017 Ricardo Allen Keanu Neal Damontae Kazee Kemal Ishmael
2018 Ricardo Allen* Keanu Neal* Damontae Kazee Sharrod Neasman Jordan Richards

First, a word for the Lawyer Milloy-Erik Coleman tandem, which was supremely fun. Milloy was still a good player when he arrived on the Falcons in 2006, and the team got three quality years out of him, including one with the very effective Coleman. The Falcons set about replacing their veteran tandem over the course of two seasons with DeCoud, a 2008 third rounder, and Moore, a 2009 second rounder. Both would end up starting for multiple seasons, with DeCoud spending six seasons in Atlanta (five as a starter) and Moore spending seven years (six as a starter, albeit with injuries mixed in). Especially in hindsight, when some of our frustrations with DeCoud’s game are sanded off, the Falcons did well to put that group together.

The transitions probably should have been tougher than they were, but the Falcons once again had a plan and it worked out fairly spectacularly. The team spent one year with Dwight Lowery plugged in at free safety opposite Moore before Dan Quinn came to town and moved Ricardo Allen to safety after the former fifth round pick spent two years bouncing on and off Mike Smith’s roster as a cornerback. Allen’s been more than good enough to justify the move since, and the team was fortunate enough to follow Willy Mo’s final season in 2015 by drafting Neal, who endured a brief shaky stretch at the beginning of his career but has more or less been stellar since when he’s been healthy.

The longest stretch of stability the Falcons have enjoyed at both starting spots in four seasons over that span, with William Moore and Thomas DeCoud holding the mark and Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen shooting for it this year, assuming you chalk up a largely lost 2018 as one of those years. The Falcons have, with savvy draft selections, been able to fill their starting roles at safety with very few interruptions over the last decade-plus That’s pretty impressive.

Young depth has been trickier to develop. The Falcons have had some promising players come through—Rafael Bush, Robenson Therezie, and a handful of others have been able to hook on elsewhere—but the team’s current situation with Chris Cooper, Sharrod Neasman, and emergency safety Damontae Kaze is probably the brightest they’ve enjoyed in a while. Kemal Ishmael deserves honorable mention for providing killer depth and some quality starts along the way.