The Falcons announced on Tuesday they had agreed to terms on a new contract with three-year starting safety Thomas DeCoud. The safety was drafted by Atlanta in 2008 in the third round. He had three interceptions as a first-year starter in 2009 and finished last season with a career- and team-high four interceptions.
DeCoud has emerged as a fixture and a leader in the Falcons secondary over the last few seasons, teaming up with strong safety William Moore to create a young secondary with potential. At 27, DeCoud figures to be entering the prime of his career.
Reccently ProFootballFocus ranked DeCoud as the No. 2 safety on the free agent market and described a player strong against the run. Some of DeCoud's missed tackles in 2011 came in high-profile situations, drawing some unwanted criticism to the safety. PFF still sees a solid player that is a starting caliber defensive back.
"He improved as the season went on, not only in the run game, but the pass game too, helping his case," wrote PFF's Nathan Jahnke. "If he can continue the play he showed late in the season, he could be a solid addition."
PFF, which watches every play of every game to determine their grading system, rated DeCoud as a -0.7 in 2011. While the mark is a negative number, it doesn't properly showcase all of DeCoud's ability. PFF credited some of DeCoud's missed tackles for his negative grading and as Jahnke wrote, he improved as the season progressed. During the final three games of the season the safety had three defensed passes and one interception.
Beyond the simple stats, PFF puts forward an even more encouraging statistic on DeCoud's performance. From Week 11 of last season to the end of the year, he allowed only 26 yards receiving. During the first 10 weeks, he allowed 341.
The addition of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan could continue to keep the progression of DeCoud going in a positive direction. A smart player who enjoys playing physical, DeCoud could thrive in Nolan's aggressive man cover schemes.
Additionally, Nolan is known as a developer of talent. His defenses are known for two major traits: a strong pass rush and good coverage on the back end. The debate will always rage about what's more important, the pass rusher or the pass coverage, but Nolan's success in the league implies that they both are of equal value and must work together to create a dominant defense.
Nolan has worked with and helped develop some of the best safeties playing right now. In Baltimore, he worked with a young Ed Reed and helped him develop into a future Hall of Famer. In San Francisco he drafted and began the development of Dashon Goldson. In Denver, he brought in Brian Dawkins to solidify the Broncos secondary and help teach the young safeties on the roster.
In Miami, Nolan used two young cornerbacks in tandem with two solid safety veterans in Yeremiah Bell and Chris Clemons to get results. In 2011, he oversaw the promotion of Reshad Jones, a second-year safety. In 2011 his quartet of starting defensive backs gathered eight interceptions. Their coverage was strong enough to allow the pass rush to get to the quarterback. Their 41 sacks were tied for sixth in the NFL.
In DeCoud, the Falcons bring back another of their core players, players that Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said at the close of the season were critical to have return. DeCoud is one of the first players that Dimitroff personally drafted to go through the re-signing process. DeCoud's re-signing signals his importance to a defense that looks to regroup and improve in 2012. The presence of DeCoud will help that.