The 2017 offseason seems like such a long time ago. Atlanta was coming off a loss that we’d all rather forget. The roster was in a strong place, and enthusiasm was high for the Falcons to compete for a Super Bowl once more.
When you think about the 2017 draft class, Takk McKinley and Damontae Kazee are probably the first names to come to mind. Maybe Sean Harlow or Duke Riley (for the wrong reasons). Another player ended up making the Falcons’ roster in 2017, however: UDFA LB Jermaine Grace from Miami.
Grace had a strong preseason with the team and turned heads with his athleticism and coverage ability. At 6’1, 223, he’s a LB very much in the Dan Quinn mold. In fact, Grace stood out a lot more than third-round pick Duke Riley. Grace’s impressive start earned him a spot on the Falcons’ initial 53-man roster, and he spent several months with the team during his first stint—playing in five total games.
However, after the Falcons brought back veteran LB Sean Weatherspoon in late October, Grace was made expendable. In a roster shuffle, Atlanta parted ways with Jermaine Grace on November 15. Thankfully, Grace had impressed enough that he was claimed on waivers the next day by the Indianapolis Colts.
Thus began Grace’s two-year travels around the league. He spent the remainder of the 2017 season with the Colts before being waived after their 2018 draft. Grace was claimed immediately once again, this time by the Seattle Seahawks. Unfortunately, Grace suffered an injury and was placed on IR in September. He was cut from IR with an injury settlement in October.
After a season apart, the Falcons pounced on the opportunity to add Grace to their practice squad. He spent the remainder of the 2018 season in Atlanta before signing a reserve/future contract for 2019.
It’s been a long, winding road, but Grace finally got another opportunity to earn a more permanent role with the Falcons during the 2019 preseason. Once again, Grace lit it up in the games—he was the most impressive defensive player overall for the Falcons through five games. Despite an encouraging performance from UDFA Del’Shawn Phillips and having to beat out an incumbent veteran in Bruce Carter, Grace persevered and battled his way back onto the roster.
Now, for the first time in Grace’s career, his spot on a roster might be considered secure. No longer is he a fringe roster candidate who may or may not find himself inactive on gamedays. Grace is now the LB4 for the Falcons—the first man up if any injury were to occur, and someone who is likely to play a handful of snaps a game at minimum. He’s a perfect fit in Atlanta’s defensive scheme and arguably one of the Falcons’ best options in coverage.
Further adding to his security in Atlanta is the fact that Grace is an ERFA (Exclusive Rights Free Agent) in 2020—virtually guaranteeing that the Falcons will re-sign him for the following season at an extremely affordable price tag. With his natural scheme fit, low price tag, and youth on his side (Grace is still just 25), he’s found himself in an ideal spot with Atlanta for at least the next few seasons.
Grace should be commended for his tenacity and work ethic. It’s not easy keeping your head up after being waived four times in two seasons, but Grace stuck it out and finally found himself in a favorable situation. The Falcons could have stumbled upon another UDFA “diamond in the rough” with Grace, who could be a big factor in 2020 when Atlanta has a tough decision to make with De’Vondre Campbell.
What are your thoughts on Jermaine Grace making the Falcons’ final 53-man roster? Are you excited to see him back in Atlanta after bouncing around the league? What are your thoughts on his long-term potential?