Now that free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft draft are (mostly) behind us, it’s time to take a closer look at the Atlanta Falcons’ roster heading in to the summer. Outside of a few additions and subtractions here and there in the course of training camp and the preseason, this is the roster Atlanta will be working with during the 2022 season.
We’ll kick things off with a look at the projected starters and players competing for those spots. Next up is safety. One of the most stable position groups on defense, three of the four safeties who played significant snaps in 2021 are returning for this season: 2021 second-rounder Richie Grant, 2020 fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins, and veteran re-signing Erik Harris.
First up, intriguing second-year safety Richie Grant.
S Richie Grant
Age: 24 (25 during 2022 season)
Contract: $1.88M cap hit in 2022, rookie contract through 2024
Career Production: 16 games played | 35 total tackles, 28 solo, 2.0 TFL, 1 FF, 12.5% MTR | 2 PD, 69.2% completion rate allowed, 103.4 passer rating allowed | 58.6 overall PFF grade
2021 Production: Same as above
Previous Teams: Drafted in the 2nd Round (40th overall) by the Atlanta Falcons (2021-present)
When changing regimes, roster turnover is common. The Falcons certainly had their fair share of it in 2021, but one position changed more drastically than any other: safety. Both starters and every primary reserve—except 2020 fourth-rounder Jaylinn Hawkins—were allowed to walk in the offseason, and a whole new group was brought in. This included veterans like Duron Harmon and Erik Harris alongside top defensive pick Richie Grant.
Coming in as a high second-rounder, hopes were high for Grant entering his rookie season. Grant’s college tape at UCF and the Senior Bowl was very impressive. Well-known for his ball skills (10 INT, 17 PD) and physicality as a run defender (11.5 TFL), Grant was expected to challenge right away for a starting job. It wasn’t a huge surprise that Grant didn’t start Week 1. It was a shock to see him fail to crack the starting lineup all season. Much of that had to do with Grant needing time to learn the playbook and scheme, according to defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
That’s not to say Grant played poorly in his rookie season. He had his ups-and-downs, including a few very encouraging games mixed in with some shakier outings. Despite never earning a start, Grant did play a massive role on special teams and factored in as a rotational third safety and slot defender in the second half of the season. Heading into his second training camp, the early praise (and fan excitement) is starting to trickle in for Grant. We’ll see if that can translate into a starting job in 2022.
Projection: Despite failing to crack the starting lineup as a rookie, Richie Grant is poised to earn one of the starting safety jobs in his second season. Now with a year of experience in Pees’ scheme, Grant has an opportunity to deliver on his upside as a physical playmaker in the secondary.