Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.
ATLANTA – Outside of the offensive line, no position took a bigger hit injury-wise in 2018 than the Falcons safeties. Both starting safeties – Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen – suffered season-ending injuries early in the season and the unit, frankly, never really recovered from it.
That said, the comeback stories of both Allen and Neal, have been beyond inspiring as well as a huge shot in the arm for this unit as it tries to regain the top-10 status it once owned to close out the 2017 season.
Setbacks, comebacks: As noted above, Keanu Neal suffered a torn ACL during a 18-12 season-opening loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road and Ricardo Allen tore his Achilles in 43-37 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 3. The two injuries decimated the back end of the Falcons defense. But the two players are back, and that bodes well for a defense that now has Falcons coach Dan Quinn calling the shots in 2019.
If you haven't taken a moment to watch the two-part series on each of these players yet, take a moment now and watch. Their individual journeys back are part gut-wrenching and inspiring. Grab some Kleenex, too. The two later talked about their reactions to the videos and share some behind-the-scenes stories on Falcons Audible podcast. You can listen to that one right here.
Hidden gem: One of the bright spots to come out of the Allen and Neal injuries was the emergence of Damontae Kazee, who found himself being called upon to step into a starting role. Kazee responded by recording 80 tackles (58 solo), seven interceptions, one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and 10 passes defensed. His seven interceptions tied for the most in the NFL with Chicago Bears Kyler Fuller and Miami Dolphins Xavien Howard. Kazee can play both nickel corner and safety, and that versatility is huge in Quinn's defense.
2019 roster forecast: 4 safeties
This a tough one, mainly because I think there could be a place on this team for Chris Cooper, a player the team gave a two-year contract to back in early April. Cooper has played well during the preseason, too, recording 11 tackles in four games, including four against the Redskins last week. Against the Jets, Cooper was the Falcons' highest-graded defensive player (73.3 overall), according to Pro Football Focus. Cooper has the versatility to play both nickel corner and safety, which makes him even more valuable (see Kazee). But can he beat out Sharrod Neasman for the No. 2 spot behind Allen? I think, for now, he lands on the practice squad. Kemal Ishmael, who can also play linebacker and special teams, make this team because of that added versatility as well.
- Ricardo Allen
- Keanu Neal
- Kemal Ishmael
- Sharrod Neasman
Projected practice squad
There's always a chance that the Falcons could sign a player who is not currently on their roster, but if they stick with their own players, this is my projected 10-player practice squad:
- RB Tony Brooks-James
- WR Christian Blake
- DE Tre' Crawford
- DE Austin Larkin
- DE Durrant Miles
- TE Jaeden Graham
- OT Jaelin Robinson
- S Chris Cooper
- QB Danny Etling
- LB Del'Shawn Phillips
What do you think?
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Falcons Audible podcast
Matt Tabeek and Will McFadden weigh in with their final thoughts before roster cuts.