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Falcons training camp preview: Safety

With Falcons training camp just around the corner, we take a closer look at Atlanta’s safeties. The position with by far the most turnover on the roster, the team will have a completely new starting duo in Week 1 of the 2021 season.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons Rookie Minicamp Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

With the start of the Falcons’ 2021 training camp just around the corner, it’s time to take a closer look at each of the position groups on the roster. We’ll go through each one, noting the potential starters and the competition for depth roles. Now it’s time to discuss the Falcons defense, where we finish our examination of the secondary with safety. The position group with the most turnover on the roster, the Falcons are going to have a completely different starting duo than in 2020 with the additions of Richie Grant, Duron Harmon, and Erik Harris.

OFFENSE: QB | RB | TE | WR | OT | C/G

DEFENSE: EDGE | DT | LB | CB | S

THE TOP THREE: Richie Grant, Duron Harmon, Erik Harris

Richie Grant

6’0, 200 | RAS: 7.8 | 2020 Stats (College): 72 total tackles, 49 solo, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks, 2 FF | 5 PD, 3 INT | 79.4 overall PFF grade

The Falcons’ second-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and the highest-drafted defensive player of the Arthur Smith/Terry Fontenot regime, Richie Grant is an exciting safety prospect with a versatile skillset. Grant was arguably the most impressive defensive player at the Senior Bowl and had an extremely productive senior season at UCF. He played mostly single high and deep safety for the Knights, but has reportedly been taking some reps closer to the line of scrimmage in OTAs. Wherever he lines up, Grant is a physical, ballhawking safety who lacks elite athleticism but makes up for it with instincts. I’d expect Grant to win one of the starting safety jobs by the end of training camp.

Duron Harmon

6’0, 205 | RAS: 5.45 | 2020 Stats: 73 total tackles, 54 solo, 12.0% missed tackle rate | 5 PD, 2 INT, 67.5% completion rate allowed, 114.6 passer rating allowed | 65.3 overall PFF grade

A somewhat late addition to Atlanta’s roster, Duron Harmon is the most accomplished safety on the depth chart. After spending the first 7 years of his career as the third safety in New England, Harmon took over a starting role with the Lions in 2020. He acquitted himself well on one of the worst defenses in the NFL, playing primarily deep coverage. Harmon is a versatile safety who has the size and athleticism to play both in the box and in single high. Harmon is the early favorite to win the safety spot opposite rookie Richie Grant.

Erik Harris

6’2, 226 | RAS: 4.59 | 2020 Stats: 61 total tackles, 44 solo, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 17.6% missed tackle rate | 5 PD, 58.1% completion rate allowed, 124.1 passer rating allowed | 57.0 overall PFF grade

Erik Harris has managed to carve out a nice NFL role for himself after spending the first 3 years of his professional career in the CFL. He finally got his NFL opportunity in 2016, signing a futures contract with the Saints. Harris wound up with the Raiders in 2017, spending the next 4 seasons with the team and becoming a full-time starter in 2019 and 2020. Harris is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, master of none player. He’s capable of playing in the box and deep, although he lacks the high-end physicality and athleticism to excel in either role. Harris is a very smart player who will play his assignment reliably and consistently, making him an ideal third safety in a rotation. Expect the Falcons to deploy him in 3-safety packages, and as the first man up in case of injury.

THE DEPTH COMPETITION: T.J. Green, Jaylinn Hawkins, Dwayne Johnson Jr., Marcus Murphy, J.R. Pace

T.J. Green

6’2, 210 | RAS: 8.94 | 2020 Stats: 1 game played

The most athletic safety on Atlanta’s roster, T.J. Green was originally selected in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Green ran an elite 4.34s 40-yard dash, which is even more impressive considering his size. However, he’s failed to hold on to a starting role since the 2017 season, and has bounced around the league a bit. Green has exciting potential and did have decent production back in 2018, with the size and athleticism to thrive in a versatile role. With a strong training camp, Green could earn a roster spot as the fifth safety.

Jaylinn Hawkins

6’1, 210 | RAS: N/A | 2020 Stats: 13 total tackles, 8 solo, 0.5 sacks, 13.3% missed tackle rate | 71.4% completion rate allowed, 113.7 passer rating allowed | 60.0 overall PFF grade

Atlanta’s fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jaylinn Hawkins played a reserve role for the Falcons last season. He acquitted himself fairly well: while Hawkins wasn’t an impact player, he filled in at a solid level when called upon. Hawkins is versatile and has experience playing both in the box and as a deep safety. His athletic profile is probably better suited to the box, but his flexibility helps his case as the probable fourth safety on the roster.

Dwayne Johnson Jr.

6’1, 207 | RAS: 3.18 | 2020 Stats (College): 40 total tackles, 23 solo, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks | 3 PD

Atlanta added three UDFA safeties after the 2021 NFL Draft, and Dwayne Johnson Jr. definitely has the best name of the three. Johnson has good size and physicality, thriving in the box for San Diego State over the course of his college career. In terms of athleticism, Johnson is lacking and is likely to be a very limited player in coverage. He’ll need a strong camp to be in contention for the 53-man roster, but is most likely competing for a spot on the practice squad.

Marcus Murphy

5’11, 198 | RAS: 4.99 | 2020 Stats (College): 34 total tackles, 11 solo, 1.0 TFL | 1 PD

The second of Atlanta’s three UDFA additions at safety, Marcus Murphy also spent the majority of his college career playing strong safety. While Murphy lacks the size and length of players like Johnson and Pace, he’s a better overall athlete and actually tested out fairly well in terms of speed, explosiveness, and agility. Murphy has more upside in coverage and on special teams as opposed to his competition. He’ll be competing with Johnson and Pace for a spot on the practice squad.

J.R. Pace

6’1, 205 | RAS: 4.02 | 2020 Stats (College): 41 total tackles, 25 solo, 1.5 TFL | 3 PD, 1 INT

The third and final UDFA addition at safety, J.R. Pace is in between Johnson and Murphy in terms of his size and athleticism. Like the other two UDFAs, Pace primarily played in the box during his college career at Northwestern. Pace has very good size and physicality, but very poor long speed. However, Pace did test out well in terms of explosiveness and agility, making him a bit of an enigma. Pace shouldn’t be relied upon at all in deep coverage, but has intriguing upside as a box defender and short-zone coverage player. He’s got a strong shot for the practice squad if he can beat out fellow UDFAs Johnson and Murphy.