Tabeek's roster predictions: Falcons safeties

Several positions are up for grabs but here's an early guess at how the Atlanta Falcons' 53-man roster could look heading into 2020

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

The Falcons have suffered their fair share of injuries over the last few seasons, but perhaps no position group has been hit harder than the safeties. Well, here's some good news: They're back, and healthy.

After tearing his ACL in the opening game of the 2018 season, Keanu Neal only made it through three games last season before injuring his Achilles and ending up on injured reserve. When he's roaming around in the secondary or lurking up near the line of scrimmage, Neal is another one of those difference-makers for the Falcons.

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Neal should be able to draw some inspiration from fellow teammate Ricardo Allen, who suffered the same type of injury in third of game of the 2018 season. Allen started in all 16 games last year and made 84 tackles (53 solo), had four tackles for loss and picked off two passes.

If both Neal and Allen are manning the defensive backfield for all 16 games in 2020, the Falcons should benefit substantially.

OVERVIEW

Quarterback of the defense: Ricardo Allen is not only the longest-tenured member of the Falcons secondary now but is quarterback of that backfield. Remember, Allen originally played cornerback whn he first arrived here and has logged reps not only there, but at the slot corner, strong safety and free safety. He knows the defense well and, more importantly, knows where everyone else should be lined up. In 16 games last year, Allen made 84 tackles (53 solo), had four tackles for loss and picked off two passes.

Plays big, hits harder: Things happen when Damontae Kazee is on the field, and they're usually good for the Falcons. The Falcons need more playmakers on defense, and Kazee is one of them. He's made 10 interceptions over the past two seasons, tied with Chicago's Kyle Fuller for the most in the NFL over that span. Kazee isn't the biggest guy back there, but he plays big and is a hard hitter. In 48 games with 30 starts, he's made 167 tackles (110 solo), forced two fumbles, tallied three tackles for a loss and has 13 passes defensed. Last year he made 69 total tackles (42 solo), two tackles for loss, three interceptions and three passes defensed in 16 games.

Bring in the reinforcements: As noted at the top, the attrition at safety over the last couple of seasons has been an issue and the Falcons add some much-needed depth in the draft. Jaylinn Hawkins has experience playing a number of positions and he began his college career as a cornerback. Sound familiar? However, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound standout from Cal can play the box safety role, much like Keanu Neal. Hawkins has nose for the football, recorded 10 interceptions in his final three seasons in Berkeley, including six picks as a junior.

RECENT HISTORY

Here are the number of safeties the Falcons have kept in previous seasons on the initial roster:

LOCKS

Here are the players who I think are locks to make the team (i.e., starters and key reserves) unless something unforeseen should happen (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Ricardo Allen
  • Keanu Neal
  • Damontae Kazee
  • Jaylinn Hawkins

ON THE BUBBLE

Here are the players who I think are still in the mix to make the team, could land on the practice squad or will be released (listed in alphabetical order):

  • Jamal Carter
  • Chris Cooper
  • Sharrod Neasman
  • Ray Wilborn
  • J.J. Wilcox

PREDICTION

  • 2020 roster forecast: 5 safeties

Tabeek's Take: The Falcons have gone with four safeties on their initial roster the last few seasons, but I think they'll go with five in 2020. If there's one thing I've picked up on during training camp it's that the Falcons are focused on affecting the quarterback and will try to do so in a multitude of ways – and that means disguising looks and being able to match up on opponents personnel-wise. To do this, they'll need interchangeable players and versatility. Sharrod Neisman played in 12 games in 2018, 15 games in 2019 and is a contributor on special teams. The Falcons like him and I think he makes it to the final 53-man roster. 

  • Ricardo Allen
  • Jaylinn Hawkins
  • Damontae Kazee
  • Keanu Neal
  • Sharrod Neasman

PREDICTING THE 53-MAN ROSTER

A look at roster battle at the safety position.The views and opinions represented here and in the corresponding article belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

BIRD NOISES: Keanu taking a different approach

The Falcons' hard-hitting safety is back from back-to-back season-ending injuries and talks about the long road back, how he's learned a lot about himself, being a better pro and more with Matt Tabeek.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you agree or disagree with Matthew Tabeek's roster predictions? Have a comment or a question you'd like to ask about the Falcons? If so, submit it here. Please remember to include your home state (or country if you live outside the U.S.). Your question could be selected to appear in Straight from the Beek. Thanks for reading.

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