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The re-addition of J.J. Wilcox shakes things up at safety for the Falcons

The veteran safety is going to have a role for the Falcons. It’s just a question of how big of a role.

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The Falcons love to tinker with their roster throughout the summer, but sometimes those moves are re-runs. That’s the case with the J.J. Wilcox signing, which is a move the Falcons made last summer in the hopes of bolstering their safety depth, only to watch him go down with a season-ending injury that same summer.

Now Wilcox is back, and given that it was reported that he was the frontrunner to be the team’s third safety in 2019, it’s fair to assume the team took a look at their existing safety depth chart and determined they needed Wilcox again. The question is whether he’ll be the team’s de facto fourth safety—behind Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen, and of course Damontae Kazee—or whether he’ll be a veteran practice squad guy.

Where does Wilcox slot in?

First of all, consider Wilcox’s experience. He’s 28 years old, but has started 39 games in his career and was a borderline Pro Bowl player in 2014, which seems like aeons ago. He’s known as a hard hitter and the Falcons can always use some more physicality, and the guys he’s competing with do not have that experience or reputation, necessarily. The chief obstacle in his way for that fourth safety gig is Jaylinn Hawkins, who should make the team given his draft status and promise, but has spent some on the reserve/COVID-19 list and probably isn’t going to contribute as much on defense in year 1 as a healthy Wilcox. I’m guessing he will make the roster if he’s healthy and stick as the team’s top backup, with Hawkins serving as the #5 safety.

That’s going to shake things up, obviously, because it’s going to push guys like Chris Cooper and Sharrod Neasman off the roster entirely. Both are logical practice squad candidates because Cooper has positional versatility and Neasman has considerable special teams value, so those players could fill to of the veteran practice squad roles the Falcons suddenly have. Before that, it was reasonable to assume Neasman in particular would hang on because he’s been around a while, but Wilcox’s addition and Hawkins’ presumed special teams role probably impacts that.

Most critically, a fully healthy Wilcox gives the Falcons a proven player at a position where injuries have been a huge part of the problem the last couple of seasons. Let’s hope he doesn’t have to have a major role, but the Falcons will clearly be comfortable if it comes to that.