Why rookie Richie Grant is a Falcon to follow closely during 2021 NFL season

Training camp will give glimpse of second-round safety's early progress

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Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant #27 runs during organized team activities on June 17, 2021.

Richie Grant had his "say cheese" moment on Friday morning after signing his first professional contract. The Falcons second-round safety should've been all smiles at that moment, which is all part of a dream coming true.

There are several pinch-me moments along this career path.

Getting drafted is the first. Then came rookie minicamp, when the No. 40 overall selection reported to Flowery Branch for the first time and saw the giant Falcons logo on the side of his new office. Friday was another massive one, even though he has been practicing with the team for weeks.

Putting pen to paper is somewhat of a formality, but the act makes it really real. Grant is a professional football player. You can tell below that fact has sunk in. Excitement's written all over his face.

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Now it's about going to work and starting his Falcons career off well. He enters the fray with high expectations, considering the glowing reviews of his Central Florida career and his projected success at the professional level. The Falcons were lauded for taking Grant early in the second-round, with many considering him a first-round talent. That's clear watching his college highlights and hearing reviews of his Senior Bowl work.

Grant did most everything well at the college level, showing versatility prized in Dean Pees defensive scheme. He's a smart, solid signal caller. He's a ballhawk. He can match up well with tight ends and is comfortable coming down to play in the slot. He's also a physical player who initiates hard contact.

That's the type of player the Falcons secondary needs. The unit must improve after finishing last in pass defense with a lackluster combination of rush and coverage.

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Could Grant be a Falcons building block to help turn things around? Time will tell on that front.

There's no insight to be gleaned from OTAs and a minicamp focused on installing new schemes. We'll get a clearer picture of Grant's progress once training camp starts in July. Don't fret if he doesn't sprint right out the gates. Most rookies don't, and the Falcons don't need him to do that.

They have veterans Erik Harris and Duron Harmon able to play and run the show right away. Jaylinn Hawkins is also in the mix at safety, so the Falcons don't necessarily need Grant to make an instant, three-down impact.

If he does, bonus. They have some cover if development and transition to the pro game takes a bit longer. If could also carve out a role in a specific package that plays to his strength.

It's clear Grant has talent, but we should be cautious assuming he'll be awesome at the outset.

Head coach Arthur Smith doesn't like hyping up rookies who haven't taken a professional game snap, and that decision's sound. It also counters the need to anoint every high draft pick a superstar in the early going.

"We have high expectations for all of the rookies," Smith said a few months back, during rookie minicamp. "We want these guys to have high expectations for themselves, but we have to bring them along and not overreact. As you get to the season, I think that's hard for guys' careers. It's a long journey for [No. 4 overall pick Kyle Pitts], for Richie [Grant], for all of these guys, whoever emerges."

That's why fans should be excited about talent and prospects for a bright future. We'll have to watch Grant closely starting in training camp to see his progress so early in his NFL career.

It remains uncertain how he'll fit into the 2021 Falcons, but you've got to like his drive to be an excellent pro. That was clear during his rookie minicamp press conference.

"This is my passion," Grant said then. "I just love being out on that green grass, being able to make calls and command a defense."

The 2021 Rookie Class has completed the rookie development program. The accomplishment was celebrated with custom baseball jerseys and footballs for each rookie.

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