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Falcons post-2020 roster review: Safety edition

Significant turnover could be in the cards for this group.

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The 2020 season may have been a disaster, but the defense was better than many give it credit for. Part of the success was due to the renewed play of Keanu Neal, who began to look more like his 2016-2017 self as the season progressed. Overall, this group was a mixed bag and the outlook for 2021 is not great.

Let’s take a look at how each player fared and how this group may look in 2021.

Ricardo Allen

2020 stats: 12 games, 19 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 2 interceptions, 5 pass deflections, 56.3 completion percentage against, 183 yards, 20.3 avg, 4 TDs, 96.6 passer rating against

Contract status: Under contract thru 2021

Ricardo is a fan favorite but his time in Atlanta may be drawing to a close. Injuries kept him out of several games this year and probably impacted his play in several others. He’s been a quality safety for most of his time in Atlanta, but his play has taken a step back in recent years. Considering his draft position, Allen has made the most of his opportunities and he likely has a bright future ahead of him as a coach.

It seems highly unlikely that he’ll be back in 2021, as cutting him will save the team nearly 6 million on the salary cap in a year where they are going to need to save every penny they can.

Keanu Neal

2020 stats: 15 games, 83 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 2 pass deflections, 77.6 completion percentage against, 387 yards, 9.0 avg, 1 TD, 97.9 passer rating against

Contract status: Free agent

Watching Neal go down in back-to-back seasons was devastating, and the prospects of him returning to form this year seemed dim in the light of that. Neal, however, improved as the season progressed and by the mid-point of the season he was back to hitting guys like a Mack truck. His coverage was not good, but inside the box he was the hard-nosed safety fans fell in love with in 2016 and 2017.

Atlanta declined to pick up his 5th year option, so if they want to keep Neal it will have to be under a new contract. Right now, that’s a toss up. Other teams are certain to be interested in him and it’s easy to imagine Dan Quinn wanting him in Dallas to be a part of his defense. The odds aren’t great that he’ll be a Falcon in 2021.

Damontae Kazee

2020 stats: 4 games, 20 tackles, 0 for loss, 0 interceptions, 1 pass deflection, 100.0 completion percentage against, 86 yards, 28.7 avg, 0 TD, 118.8 passer rating against

Contract status: Free agent

Kazee was a revelation in 2018 in relief of an injured Ricardo Allen. His 2019 campaign was a mixed bag as he rotated back and forth between corner and safety. He was a full-time safety again in 2020 as part of a 3-headed safety configuration, but his season ended short with an achilles tear. He never quite lived up to his strong 2018 season, but he showed enough to warrant making him a starter before the injury took him down.

Of all the guys on this list, Kazee may be the easiest to bring back. He doesn’t have the same clout as Keanu and his injury may make other teams gun-shy to offer him a big deal. Don’t be surprised if the Falcons bring him back on an inexpensive one year “prove-it” deal.

Jaylinn Hawkins

2020 stats: 12 games, 13 tackles, 0 for loss, 0 interceptions, 0 pass deflections, 80.0 completion percentage against, 77 yards, 19.3 avg, 0 TD, 118.8 passer rating against

Contract status: Under contract thru 2023

The fourth round pick in the 2020 draft class wasn’t expected to contribute much this year, but injuries forced him into the lineup early. Hawkins showed flashes of good play and enough talent worth developing, but a concussion ended his season early.

Given the lack of options, Hawkins is almost certainly slated for a bigger role in 2021 whether it is warranted or not. If the team doesn’t find some cheap free agent veterans or draft a safety early, Hawkins could be penciled in for a significant increase in snaps in his second year.

Sharrod Neasman

2020 stats: 16 games, 27 tackles, 2 for loss, 0 interceptions, 0 pass deflections, 71.4 completion percentage against, 66 yards, 13.2 avg, 0 TD, 100.9 passer rating against

Contract status: Free agent

The 2016 undrafted free agent has spent almost his entire career with the Falcons, and even though he has shown glimpses of solid play, he’s been mostly relegated to sitting on the bench. He’s been an ok starter in short stints, but has not shown that he’s the kind of player you want to build your defense around. The Falcons may bring him back on a small contract, but don’t be surprised if he’s not in Atlanta again in 2021.

Outlook: Poor

The reality is this position group has the most question marks going into 2021. Keanu Neal may be hard to retain while Ricardo Allen is almost certainly going to be a cap casualty. Kazee is coming off a severe injury leaving only fourth rounder Jaylinn Hawkins as the only safety currently under contract.

The Falcons may have to consider converting some players to safety for depth and a cheap, veteran signing may be critical, even as their cap space is incredibly restrictive. The team will almost certainly have to draft another safety if not two, meaning the back end of the defense could be manned by first time starters at both safety positions. Of all the position groups on the defense, this one has the most question marks and the most holes to fill for 2021. It could be a rough, rough ride.