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After Further Review: Johnathan Cyprien could be Falcons' new enforcer

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The Falcons traded linebacker Duke Riley and a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft to the Eagles on Monday for safety Johnathan Cyprien and a seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft. The move adds a veteran player with history as a starter at a position of need for Atlanta, following Keanu Neal's season-ending injury.


So, what does Cyprien brings to the Falcons?

At just a first glance, it's easy to see why Atlanta would be interested in Cyprien. The 6-foot-1, 211-pound defender is similar in size to Neal, and he has a similar skillset to function as the Falcons' box safety.

Cyprien was originally drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick of the second round in the 2012 NFL Draft. Cyprien became a full-time starter for the Jaguars as a rookie and started 60 games during his four seasons with the team. In 2016, Cyprien was the Jaguars second-leading tackler, notching 126 stops as well as four pass defenses and three tackles for a loss.

The physical safety suffered an ACL injury prior to the 2018 season while with the Tennessee Titans, but if the Falcons can get the version of Cyprien who played in Jacksonville, this could be a pretty impactful move for the 2019 season.

Throughout his career, Cyprien has operated in much the same way the Falcons have utilized Neal. Cyprien has often been rotated down into the box as an added defender against the run, matched up in man coverage against tight ends or helped roam the middle of the field as a zone safety.

The Falcons' run defense has been much improved since their Week 1 outing against the Vikings, but a player of Cyrprien's talents could help sure things up even more. He shows good instincts when taking on blocks, and Cyprien (No. 37 below) is not afraid to set a hard edge when playing at the line of scrimmage.

Even if Cyprien can't completely replicate Neal's talents as a run defender, he shouldn't be a liability in that area. In fact, The 29-year-old safety was named Pro Football Focus' top-rated run defender among all safeties in 2016. He definitely fits into physical aspect of the Falcons' "fast and physical" mantra on defense.

Cyprien has recorded double-digit tackles in 18 of his 74 career games in the NFL, and he makes those plays all over the field. In short-yardage situations, Cyprien has enough strength and play recognition to blow up offenses at the point of attack. Opponents have run the ball eight times against Atlanta this season in third-and-4-or-fewer situations, and they've gained a first down on seven of those attempts. This is an area where Cyprien could help the defense.

Given his experience as an NFL starter, Cyprien should be fairly reliable. The Falcons have missed too many tackles for coach Dan Quinn's liking, and the addition of Cyprien should be a step in the right direction to get that corrected.

"Tackling-wise, it was still not up to the standard we set for ourselves," Quinn said of his secondary on Monday. "That's one of the things we'll be adding into practice to improve upon that. To have as many missed tackles as we had was certainly not to the standard we want, and we'll certainly put the work in that way."

The Falcons have plenty of athleticism on defense, but consistency has been lacking so far in 2019, especially in the secondary where there is a lot of youth. As a veteran, Cyprien shows good gap discipline and anticipation, and he should at the very least be a boost to the run defense at the second level.

The biggest remaining question surrounding Cyprien is what he has left in the tank as a player in coverage. At his Florida International pro day, Cyprien ran a 4.56-second 40-yard-dash, but that was six years and one ACL injury ago.

Atlanta surely understands Cyprien's potential limitations at this point. Speed is always important in the NFL, but short-area quickness may be more necessary in the Falcons' zone schemes. And with players like Damontae Kazee, De'Vondre Campbell and Kemal Ishmael offering a variety of coverage options for Quinn, he may not need Cyprien to do too much in coverage.

That doesn't mean Cyprien can't do it, though. He has more than enough size and athleticism to match up against many of the NFL's tight ends. Cyprien also knows how to win his matchups, which isn't a tangible skill but an important one.

On the two plays below, Cyprien wins in two different ways. On the first, against Colts tight end Jack Doyle, Cyprien is in man coverage and avoids a pick route while still getting to the flat quick enough to knock the ball away. On the second, against Titans tight end Delanie Walker, Cyprien refuses to get bullied out of his spot and pushes back to breakup the pass.

After a 1-3 start, the Falcons need to find a way to reach sustainable consistency on both sides of the ball. The team hasn't been afraid to play its young players in years past, but the addition of Cyprien shows the urgency of the moment.

At the very least, Cyprien should be an asset against the run and another established veteran voice in the locker room. If things break the right way, the Falcons newest safety could inject a new enforcer mentality with Neal gone and help sure up some of the key aspects of good team defense.

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