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Safety targets for the Falcons in the 2021 NFL Draft

With the 2021 NFL Draft fast approaching, it’s time to take a look at some top targets for the Falcons at positions of need. We continue with safety, where Atlanta added Duron Harmon and Erik Harris but still needs quality depth for the future.

Temple v Central Florida Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

The 2021 NFL Draft is fast approaching, which means it’s time to discuss some priority targets for the Falcons. Atlanta has been carefully adding veterans in free agency to bolster several major roster holes, but the team still has significant gaps in the roster. Up until the draft, I’ll be detailing some of my top prospects for the Falcons at several positions of need. If you missed any of the previous entries in the series, you can find them below:

EDGE | Safety

We continue with safety, where the Falcons moved on from long-time starters Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen this offseason. The depth chart was in desperate need of help prior to free agency, with just 2020 fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins and former UDFA T.J. Green under contract. Atlanta added two spot starters in Duron Harmon and Erik Harris, but they’d be wise to plan for the future by targeting a high-upside prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Athletic testing numbers are taken from Kent Le Platte’s Relative Athletic Scores. Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter (@Mathbomb) for updates on athletic testing!

Trevon Moehrig, TCU

Projection: Late 1st-Early 2nd Round

2020 Stats: 47 total tackles, 30 solo, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 9 PD

If the Falcons are looking to make a big splash at safety, the top prospect in this year’s class is TCU’s Trevon Moehrig. He’s a standout player in coverage with the range, instincts, and anticipation to be an immediate difference-maker in the secondary. Recent mock drafts suggest Moehrig is unlikely to make it to Atlanta’s pick at 35—and the team may be less inclined to spend that pick on a safety after the signings of Duron Harmon and Erik Harris—but if he’s there, he’d be a cornerstone to build around for Atlanta’s new defense under Dean Pees. Here’s how I described Moehrig’s talents in a previous mock draft:

TCU’s Trevon Moehrig has been one of the biggest risers over the past two seasons, and makes a lot of sense as a centerfielder for the Falcons—regardless of the scheme they plan to run under a new staff. Moehrig has excellent size at 6’1, 208, and very good range to cover all areas of the field. He’s instinctive and smart in zone coverage on the back end, and is capable of shutting down plays all over the field. Moehrig’s ball skills are also exceptional, as he has 6 INTs and 20 PDs over the past two seasons. Moehrig has the size and athleticism to play man coverage if needed, but his technique needs work in this area. He’s a willing tackler, but Moehrig needs to clean up his technique and decision-making to be more reliable as the last line of defense.

Jevon Holland, Oregon

Projection: 2nd Round

2019 Stats: 66 total tackles, 40 solo, 4.5 TFL, 4 INT, 4 PD (14 games played)

Another safety option for the Falcons early on Day 2, Jevon Holland is one of the most versatile—and athletic—prospects in the 2021 draft class. Holland opted out of the 2020 season, but he demonstrated a high level of play over two previous seasons at Oregon in 2018 and 2019 where he put up 9 INTs and 10 PD. It’s unlikely Atlanta would take Holland at 35 and he’s very likely to be gone by pick 68, but he could be an intriguing option if the team acquires more Day 2 picks in a trade down. Here’s how I described Holland’s talents in a previous mock:

Jevon Holland is a versatile safety prospect who has the size and athleticism to play just about anywhere in the secondary. Holland played a number of roles at Oregon, including single-high, box safety, split zones, and even slot cornerback. His ability as a chess piece makes him a natural fit in a Dean Pees defense, where safeties are expected to be somewhat interchangeable. Holland’s range is excellent, as are his coverage instincts and ballhawking skills. He’s also a reliable run defender who rarely misses tackles—an important characteristic for a deep safety. Holland is an immediate starter who can make an impact from day one in Atlanta’s new-look defense.

Richie Grant, UCF

Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

2020 Stats: 72 total tackles, 49 solo, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 3 INT, 5 PD, 2 FF (9 games played)

If the Falcons are planning to target a safety at pick 68, one of the best options is likely to be UCF’s Richie Grant. Grant put together a strong final year in 2020 and followed it up with a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl, which helped elevate his stock into the mid-Day 2 range. He lacks ideal size, but otherwise checks all the boxes for a deep safety. Here’s how I described Grant’s talents in a previous mock draft:

UCF’s Richie Grant could likely have been a late Day 2 pick in the 2020 draft, but chose to return to school for his senior season. Grant is a high-end free safety prospect with excellent range and instincts in single high coverage. His ball skills are impressive and he’s also shown the ability to matchup in man coverage from the slot. While Grant isn’t overly physical, his tackling technique is sound and he rarely misses. Much like Cisco, Grant can be over-aggressive with trying to jump routes and reading the QB—leading to some mistakes in coverage. Grant looks the part of a starting NFL free safety and could be good fit for the Falcons on Day 2.

Hamsah Nasirildeen, FSU

Projection: 2nd-3rd Round

2019 Stats: 101 total tackles, 61 solo, 2.0 TFL, 2 INT, 3 PD, 3 FF (11 games played)

Another potential target at pick 68, FSU’s Hamsah Nasirildeen has elite size and high-end athleticism for the safety position. Versatility is the name of the game for Nasirildeen, who has lined up all over the secondary and has the size and range to play in a variety of roles. While he’s not an ideal single-high option, he can handle Cover 2 looks and is an intriguing TE neutralizer. Here’s how I described Nasirildeen’s talents in a previous mock draft:

An incredible athlete with rare size (6’3, 213), Nasirildeen might have vaulted himself into the first round with an exceptional 2020 season. Unfortunately, an ACL tear in late 2019 limited him to just two games this year. Obviously, teams may have some concerns about his health—and that has caused him to fall into Day 2. But make no mistake: when healthy, Nasirildeen has the ceiling of an elite player in the secondary. He’s able to play a variety of roles due to his size and speed, and can be a true matchup neutralizer. Nasirildeen can cover TEs, play Cover 2, and step up and make plays in the box.

Andre Cisco, Syracuse

Projection: 3rd Round

2019 Stats: 65 total tackles, 41 solo, 0.5 TFL, 5 INT, 5 PD, 1 FF (9 games played)

Here’s what I wrote about Andre Cisco in my most recent mock draft, I feel it adequately sums up why I like him for the Falcons:

One of my favorite fits for the Falcons on Day 2, Syracuse’s Andre Cisco could have the highest upside of any safety in the class. With 13 interceptions in just 24 games played, he’s an elite ballhawk with a phenomenal nose for the ball. Cisco has also demonstrated impressive range and overall athleticism along with plus size at 6’0, 203. He was a walking playmaker in college who was capable of completely taking over games with his incredible turnover production.

That being said, Cisco is far from a perfect prospect. His ultra-aggressive style led to a number of coverage lapses and big plays allowed. He’s also not a particularly reliable player in man coverage, and his play against the run leaves a lot of be desired. Cisco will need to be coached up and taught to keep his play in check, but you simply can’t teach his ballhawking instincts. At pick 74, Cisco could wind up the best safety in the class—or he could wind up an unreliable starter. He’s a risk, particularly when combined with the season-ending injury he suffered in 2020, but a risk worth taking.

James Wiggins, Cincinnati

Projection: 3rd-4th Round

2020 Stats: 32 total tackles, 25 solo, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PD, 1 FF (9 games played)

If Atlanta elects to wait until early Day 3 to target a safety, Cincinnati’s James Wiggins is an intriguing option with high-end athleticism. Wiggins is a versatile safety prospect with the ability to play deep, in split zones, or in the box. He’s got solid size at 5’11, 210 and put up incredible numbers at his Pro Day: a 4.41 40-yard dash, 38’ vertical jump, and a 10”, 7’ broad jump. Here’s how I described Wiggins in a previous mock draft:

Wiggins is a physical player who can bring the boom as a tackler. He’s also strong in coverage and is an excellent ballhawk, with 5 INTs and 11 PD over the past two seasons. His ability to line up anywhere in the secondary adds to his value, although he still needs work in zone coverage. The issues with Wiggins have primarily been injury-related, as he tore his ACL prior to the 2019 season and had a setback prior to 2020. His athleticism has clearly not been affected, as his testing shows, but it’s worth mentioning and he’ll need to clear medical checks.

Ar’Darius Washington, TCU

Projection: 4th-5th Round

2020 Stats: 37 total tackles, 25 solo, 1.0 TFL, 4 PD (9 games played)

Arguably the most polarizing safety prospect in the entire draft class, TCU’s Ar’Darius Washington presents a very difficult evaluation. On one hand, his tape is very exciting and Washington undeniably makes a lot of high-impact plays. On the other, Washington is incredibly undersized for an NFL safety at just 5’8, 176. He also tested out as basically an average athlete, which is a big issue when you’re so small.

Projections for Washington are all over the place. Some analysts love his tape so much they’d take him without hesitation on Day 2, while others are scared off by his size and slot him into Day 3. I’m more in line with the latter group: I love what I’ve seen on film and think Washington has an NFL role, but I’m not sure the risk is worth a Day 2 selection. If Washington remained on the board into the 4th-5th round, I’d consider taking him as a rotational piece to match up on certain slot players and as a deep coverage safety.

Caden Sterns, Texas

Projection: 5th-6th Round

2020 Stats: 52 total tackles, 30 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PD

With three fifth-round picks and two sixth-rounders, the Falcons will have the opportunity to add a lot of depth and/or developmental players on Day 3. There are a number of good safeties to consider in this range, including players like Divine Deablo, Tyree Gillespie, and Darrick Forrest, but I’ll highlight Texas’ Caden Sterns here. Sterns is slightly below average in terms of size, but tested out as a high-end athlete at his Pro Day (as you can see in the above numbers).

Sterns is actually a very accomplished player in coverage and has experience in both man and zone. While his ball production has been somewhat inconsistent (5 INT over 3 seasons), Sterns is competitive at the catch point and shows strong instincts in deep coverage. He’s got the range to make plays all over the field and play any coverage you throw at him. Sterns’ issues come in run support, where he’s a very inconsistent tackler who doesn’t take good angles to the football. His physicality is lacking and he’ll need to toughen up in this area, especially if he’s going to play a more versatile role in a Dean Pees defense.

What are your thoughts on the safety class in the 2021 NFL Draft? Are there any other prospects you’ll be watching for the Falcons when the draft arrives?