John Fricke takes an advance look at the Atlanta Falcons at the positional level. This examination is on the defensive backs as training camp begins in 27 days.
Coach: Doug Mallory – Defensive Backs Coach
Camp Depth Chart
LCB: Robert Alford, CJ Goodwin, CJ Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Marcelis Branch
SS: Ricardo Allen, Sharrod Neasman, Quincy Mauger, Jordan Moore
FS: Keanu Neal, Akeem King, Deron Washington, Janor Jones
RCB: Desmond Trufant, Jalen Collins, Deji Olatoye, Taylor Reynolds
NB: Brian Poole, Damontae Kazee
Desmond Trufant missed a big chunk of the 2016 season after suffering a torn pectoral in Week 9 against Tampa Bay that knocked him out for the remainder of the season. His loss was profound to the club down the stretch and especially noticeable in the Super Bowl. The teams first-round pick in the 2013 draft and a 2015 Pro Bowler, Trufant has lived up to the expectations that he is one of the top corners in the game today. The club rewarded him with a five-year extension in the offseason.
Robert Alford continued again to grow into a top-flight cover corner in 2016. Starting all 16 games and recording 19 passes broken up to go with his 50 total tackles. Like Trufant, “Rocky” is armed with a new long-term deal, Alford and Trufant (the clubs first two picks of the 2013 draft) are set to lock down those key spots for a number of seasons to come.
Jalen Collins hit his stride in the second half of the season. Two big interceptions alongside a number of highlight-worthy hits signaled his growth into a player the club could count on.
CJ Goodwin was a key contributor in coverage last season. He started once and recorded 17 tackles, 14 of those solo along side a pair of pass breakups.
Brian Poole became a rookie sensation last season. As an undrafted free agent out of Florida, Poole played in all 16 regular season games, starting nine of them. He recorded 42 tackles, had a pick and in the NFC title game and had a thunderous highlight hit of Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Damonte Kazee was the club’s fifth-round pick of the 2017 draft. Kazee was the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016. At San Diego State he set an Aztecs career record with 17 interceptions.
The safeties start with the breakout star of the secondary in 2016: Keanu Neal, who won First Team All Rookie honors in the NFL after recording a whopping 106 tackles despite missing the first two games of the season with an injury. Neal was also among the league leaders with five forced fumbles on the season. His jersey No. 22 is likely still imprinted into the chest of Bucs star wideout Mike Evans after a massive hit delivered in the Falcons win in Tampa. Neal has all the markings of quickly growing into one of the top players at his spot in the entire league.
Ricardo Allen had a breakout year recording 90 tackles and picking off a pair of passes and then adding two more picks during the Falcons’ playoff run. Allen’s impact at free safety in the secondary was also noticeable in the way he often acted as a quarterback in helping positioning and assisting on in-game adjustments for the younger players.
A solid mix of veterans (Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Akeem King) and rookies seek to make an impact in camp and add to a unit that is considered one of the top-10 secondaries in the NFL and could aim for an even higher ranking by the end of 2017.