*Editor's note: This is the fourth installment of profiles on the Atlanta Falcons' 2017 rookie class. *
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Training camp is finally upon us, and there are some exciting new players joining the Falcons' Brotherhood. With practices about to get underway, now is the perfect opportunity to analyze the 2017 rookie class and what they bring to the team.
- Takk McKinley fits Quinn's 'fast and physical' mindset
- Duke Riley brings speed to Falcons defense
- Sean Harlow could be in mix at right guard
Our fourth installment will cover the first of Atlanta's three fifth-round draft picks, defensive back Damontae Kazee.
Coach Dan Quinn has built some good depth in the Falcons' secondary since his arrival, and Kazee is another player who can offer something to the unit. He was an absolute ball-hawk at San Diego State and isn't afraid to gamble and make the big play.
Let's take a closer look at what Kazee brings to the team.
San Diego State stats (four seasons):
- 240 tackles
- 14.5 tackles for loss
- 17 interceptions
- 29 passes defended
- 6 forced fumbles
The stat that immediately jumps off the page for Kazee is his 17 career interceptions, the most in San Diego State history and fourth-most all-time in the Mountain West Conference. This shows the natural feel Kazee has for the ball and the trust he has in his own abilities to make a play. He's also a sure tackler, who makes tackles in space. Per Pro Football Focus, Kazee allowed receivers to gain a total of 99 yards after the catch in 2016.
Kazee's greatest strengths are his tackling ability and skills on the ball in coverage. PFF calculated that Kazee had a tackling efficiency rating of 17, which means that he missed just one tackle per 17 opportunities. This number was the 10th-best in the 2017 draft class. The defensive backs in Quinn's defense must be adept at tackling and Kazee certainly is.
In coverage, Kazee also has qualities that should fit nicely with the Falcons' defense. He can read opposing quarterbacks to gain an advantage and break on the ball. Kazee's seven interception in 2016 came on 72 passes thrown into his coverage. That rate of one interception per 10.3 targets was one of the best marks in the country.
Kazee's game-winning interception (below) against California last season shows how he will read a quarterback's eyes and jump a route to make the big play.
San Diego State ran quarters coverage for nearly the entire season, which may make Kazee's learning curve a bit steeper as he adjusts to the NFL. His 40-yard dash time of 4.54 was only in the 29th percentile when compared to other cornerbacks, according to mockdraftable.com. Kazee's NFL.com draft profile summarized what that 40-yard dash time might indicate: "Unable to carry deep speed down the field. Can be beaten over the top if he's not diligent with his positioning."
His willingness to take risks can sometimes backfire, especially if he doesn't have the speed to recover on a play. On the play below, Kazee is lined up as the outside cornerback and tries to jump the screen route, which allows his assigned receiver to get behind him and make a big play.
What to watch for in camp
Atlanta has a deep group of defensive backs, but Kazee will be expected to come in and compete for a spot in the rotation. After his selection, Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff described him as a "tough, aggressive, very fiery football player." At 5-foot-10 and 184 pounds, Kazee will likely work as a nickel back, but Dimitroff noted his versatility and his potential to perform in a variety of roles.
"He's got versatility," Dimitroff said after the draft. "He's a guy that we see as potentially a safety or a nickel guy, not necessarily an outside corner. Again, (he's got the) versatility to play different positions and also contribute on special teams."