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Positional breakdown: Casey Hayward Jr.'s veteran presence will be vital for a young defensive back group

Erik Harris returns, joins safety position battle with Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins

The Falcons defensive back room will arguably be one of the strongest areas for this team heading into the season. The secondary's young core is promising, with A.J. Terrell as the headliner. And, after signing veteran defensive back Casey Hayward Jr., picking up free agents Mike Ford and Teez Tabor, and re-signing veteran free safety Erik Harris, things are looking completely up.


Despite this group having a rough 2021 season, from suffering injuries to having young rookies fill-in for veterans, this group could fare better. With the Falcons going through a transitional period the past few seasons, expect this group to make more noise this year.

Who's in the room: A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Dean Marlowe, Casey Hayward Jr., Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Darren Hall, Richie Grant, Corey Ballentine, Cornell Armstrong, Dee Alford, Mike Ford, Matt Hankins, Lafayette Pitts, Teez Tabor, Tre Webb

53-man projection: A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Casey Hayward Jr., Darren Hall, Dean Marlowe, Richie Grant, Jaylinn Hawkins, Erik Harris, Mike Ford

Projected starters: A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward Jr., Erik Harris, Jaylinn Hawkins

Where the position was: Things were a bit rocky last year. The Falcons defensive back group finished towards the bottom of the NFL in passing yards allowed, giving up 3,952 yards and 31 touchdowns last season.

Rookies Richie Grant and Darren Hall saw valuable minutes in the slot last year due to the season-ending injury of Isaiah Oliver. It wasn't an ideal situation for this defense – Oliver proved a quality slot corner in Dean Pees' scheme and losing him was a big deal -- but these young players showed promise for the future. It was obvious that this group needed more talent going into this season.

Where the position is: This group is in a more promising position to say the least. Amid the offseason, general manager Terry Fontenot signed veteran defensive back Casey Hayward to a two-year, $11 million contract to pair opposite A.J. Terrell. Hayward's leadership and experience will be vital for this position group, considering the number of young guys in the room. Oliver's back from a torn ACL.

Erik Harris started 12 games last season, proving why he's still in the league with 64 total tackles last season. His leadership and presence will be key for this secondary. Richie Grant will challenge him for a starting spot, with coaches expecting improvements from the 2021 second-round pick in Year 2.

Those two will battle for one spot, with the other likely occupied by Jaylinn Hawkins, who has come in and set the tone for himself and his future in the league. With a total of 24 tackles and two interception last season, you can expect for those numbers to continue increasing.

A.J. Terrell, the 16th overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, has proven that he’s one of the best defensive backs in the NFL. The 2021 second-team All-Pro will be one of the faces for this defense, without a doubt. Terrell will continue to help establish not only this position group, but the entire defense in its effort to make a turnaround from last season's struggles. Improving in both passing yards allowed and completion percentage will be a heavy focus.

Take a look at cornerback A.J. Terrell sporting the classic red helmet originally worn by the Atlanta Falcons in 1966.

Where the position is going: It's safe to say this position is headed in the right direction with a much more well-rounded look from last year. Having veterans like Hayward Jr., Harris and Oliver in the locker room interweaves perfectly with young players like Terrell, Grant and Hawkins working alongside them. The hope is that Hawkins and Grant can join Terrell as standout starters this year and beyond, and that Hayward continues to play well into his 30s.

Darren Hall could also see more minutes this season, helping to establishing his footing in the league. This will be an exciting group to watch this season.


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