The Falcons may very well have one of the most interesting safety groups in the entire NFL. With three legitimate starters in Keanu Neal, Ricardo Allen and Damontae Kazee, all of whom can execute multiple tasks at a high level, Atlanta can confuse offenses and present a variety of defensive looks.
Fourth-round pick Jaylinn Hawkins fits the mold of what the Falcons have looked for at safety, and he may bring a skill set that is unique even among the versatile players who comprise his position group.
Player: Jaylinn Hawkins
Notable college stats: 10 interceptions in final three seasons at Cal.
Second opinion: "High-energy guy, who fits into Dan [Quinn's] setting here. A high passion football guy, flies around, very aggressive, very confident with his abilities, can play the pass well, runs well, good athletic ability, and again, versatility there. So, to add that depth not only in our secondary but on special teams, as well, we like where we're going with Jaylinn." – Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons general manager
Hawkins has worked almost entirely with the second- and third-team units, but that was always to be expected with the talent and depth at the position. Making any judgements based on Hawkins' performance in full-team drills is difficult because of the level of talent he's facing, but he's been solid, if not as flashy as his fellow fourth-round pick, Mykal Walker.
In the various individual drills, however, Hawkins has shown great functional athleticism and body control. He keeps his body over his feet during the backpedal and is quick to close downhill. At 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds, has the size to play down in the box while also displaying the instincts to play deep in coverage.
It's down near the line of scrimmage that might make the most of Hawkins' talents. He has shown a good ability to navigate through traffic and defend the run, and he also appears capable of rushing the passer if called upon to blitz. Hawkins has worked in pass-rush drills at times during camp, and he puts his athleticism to great use in this area.
At the very least, in his first year Hawkins should be a primary contributor on special teams and has the potential to develop into a difference-maker in that aspect of the game. His speed, tackling instincts and agility make him a natural in that regard in the same way that they help him while playing safety.
Still, the thing Hawkins did best in college was get his hands on the ball, as evidenced by his 10 interceptions, and the Falcons will want to put him in position to create turnovers as often as possible. Just like many of the other safeties on Atlanta's roster, Hawkins is a player who has the tools to line up all over the field and execute different assignments.
In that way, he should fit right in.
There were highlights from the offense and defense during the first team scrimmage on Day 14 of AT&T Atlanta Falcons Training Camp.