Skip to main content

DeMarcco Hellams grew into his role at safety, should do so more in second year -- Rookie Review

The Falcons drafted safety DeMarcco Hellams out of Alabama with a seventh-round pick in 2023. 

Editor's note: The "Rookie Review" is a series of stories analyzing members from the Falcons' 2023 NFL Draft class. We take a look back at their 2023 production, as well as forward to what 2024 could hold for each individual.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Safety DeMarcco Hellams introduced himself to the Atlanta Falcons with back-to-back bangs.

In the Falcons' opening preseason game – a victory against the Miami Dolphins – Hellams made an interception. He picked off quarterback Mike White in the end zone and returned the ball 15 yards to the Falcons' 13-yard line.

Then, in the Falcons' second preseason game – a tie with the Cincinnati Bengals – Hellams made another interception. He picked off quarterback Jake Browning at the Bengals' 42-yard line and returned it 5 yards further into Cincinnati territory.

"He proved (in the preseason) that he can go through without game planning," Falcons assistant head coach/defense Jerry Gray said in Week 13. "Then once we start game planning, can he retain what he's seeing on film and take the game plan to the field? And now, he's doing that. He deserves to get more playing time. He's a good football player and all he's going to do is keep adding."

Hellams played in the Falcons' third preseason game – a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – but did not record a third consecutive interception.

Exhibition work is normal for a rookie, especially for someone like Hellams, who was a seventh-round pick. The Falcons used their No. 224 overall selection to obtain Hellams from the University of Alabama in the 2023 NFL Draft.

But, because of how Hellams performed in those games, when the outcome didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things, he earned a spot on the Falcons' 53-man roster, which is never a guarantee for someone drafted so late.

"He had a really good preseason," former Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen said. "Remember he had a couple of picks. He was all over the place."


A look back

Hellams was involved in the Falcons' special teams since Week 1 but didn't receive a defensive snap until Week 4. His debut on defense consisted of 12 snaps (18%) with one tackle. Those numbers only increased as the season went on, reaching 69 defensive snaps (96%) in Week 16 for seven tackles. He sustained a concussion in Week 17 that forced him to miss the Week 18 finale.

In total, Hellams appeared in 15 games overall, starting four. He notched 40 tackles, 25 of which were solo. There was one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss, too.

Hellams was only inactive in Weeks 9 and 18. He missed the Falcons' loss to the Minnesota Vikings due to a hamstring injury and the Falcons' loss to the New Orleans Saints with the aforementioned concussion.

"I thought DeMarcco did a fantastic job when he got his opportunity to go out there," Gray said. "He played in space, made some tackles in space. Actually, he's physical in the run game, which we like."

What Hellams learned in 2023

Hellams made the most of his opportunities, even if there weren't as many as he maybe preferred at the start. It took a minute for him to earn a shot on the defensive side of the ball. But when he did, he did not disappoint.

The reason Hellams was able to slide into the secondary without issue is because he practiced and prepared well. He showed on a consistent basis that he would be ready whenever his number was called and, in the meantime, he continued to work to be better. Hellams trusted the process, which shouldn't be a surprise considering he went to Alabama and that mantra was preached by now-retired head coach Nick Saban.

That dedication paid off. So much so that Hellams received the starting nod, replacing Richie Grant in two games. In Hellams' two other starts, both Hellams and Grant were on the field with Jessie Bates III, who started every game. Of the five safeties who played, only these three were starters at some point. Hellams was the sole rookie.

"His thing was being a rookie coming into a situation, learning the defense," Nielsen said. "He learned the defense and then just stayed patient, but pushed himself to learn everything even though he's a good mental-rep guy. He's watching, he's learning, and then all of a sudden – very similar – he got his opportunity and went out and made a play."

Areas for improvement

Hellams needs to pick up where he left off in 2023 – obviously before the concussion – and continue to grow from there, because he had been doing well and earning more opportunities. He started his last three consecutive games – opposite Bates, of all players, too. Hellams could not have asked for someone better to learn from, considering Bates had a career season with Pro Bowl and All-Pro accolades.

There weren't any major critiques about Hellams' game throughout the season. His coaches really just needed to see more from him. That'll be the same key in 2024, gaining more and more experience so he can make instinctual and standout plays like Bates.

If Hellams' career matches the progression like his rookie season did, he's bound to get better. That's how his collegiate career worked out, too. From his freshman to senior season, Hellams' game only improved. Don't be surprised when the same happens with the Falcons.

"He's got a great football mind," Nielsen said. "He's very aware on the football field, can anticipate things."

Join us as we take a look back on the top 100 photos from the Atlanta Falcons' 2023 season.

Related Content