The Atlanta Falcons don’t have the best safeties this season, but who in the NFL really does these days?
New Falcons head coach Dan Quinn prides himself on aggressive defense, but he isn’t in Seattle anymore. Quinn doesn’t have Pro Bowlers Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, who are considered the best safety tandem in the league.
Steady veteran William Moore represents the most valuable piece in the safety room along with eight-year Iowa product Charles Godfrey and third-year UCF product Kemal Ishmael as the next best players.
After Moore, Godfrey and Ishmael, the Falcons have five players who have appeared in a combined five games. That group includes last year’s fifth-round pick Ricardo Allen, third-year Ball State product Sean Baker and four college free agents led by Terell Floyd (Louisville) and Robenson Therezie (Auburn).
Moore is penciled in at strong safety after compiling 61 starts over the past five seasons. However, the 2009 second-round selection from Missouri has only made it through a full season once, and that was in 2013.
Last season, he appeared in only seven games as he spent Weeks 5-12 on the injured reserve/designated to return list. He went on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 23 with a right shoulder injury. The 30-year-old practiced with the Falcons in OTAs despite having shoulder surgery in January. He has 14 career interceptions, averaging 3.5 per season from 2010-13.
Next to Moore, Godfrey is projected to be the starting free safety for the Falcons with Ishmael and Allen in the mix. Godfrey has appeared in just 14 games the last two seasons and hasn’t recorded an interception since 2012. The Carolina Panthers released him after seven games with one start in 2014 and he then signed with the Falcons, appearing in five games. Even though he didn’t play a single snap in those five games, the Falcons re-signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million deal this off-season.
Ishmael has the best chance of earning meaningful playing time even if he can’t edge out Godfrey for the starting gig. He led Atlanta in interceptions (4) and finished second on the team in tackles (98) while adding the lone defensive touchdown of the season on a 23-yard interception return in a Week 3 blowout win over Tampa Bay.
Also in play for snaps is converted cornerback Ricardo Allen. He lined up at OTAs with the first-team at times and came away with a handful of interceptions. Allen could be a darkhorse for the free safety spot if Godfrey falters like he did at the end of his tenure with the Panthers last year. The second-year Purdue product could also prove to have an edge over Ishmael, who is more of a strong safety that lacks elite cover skills. The big knock on Allen is his size, and at 5’9″ he might be best suited to be a slot corner.
The Falcons also have Sean Baker, who spent five games on the active roster in 2014 after being on the practice squad the year before. Akeem King, who signed as an undrafted free agent is intriguing considering he posted a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which ranked third among all defensive backs. He is joined by Floyd and Therezie and Florida Atlantic product Damian Parms. King could be a good guy to stash on the practice squad this season.
Quinn should be able to find the right tandem or trio if he wants a rotation and make it work. Having the defensive-minded Quinn in town will make things easier for the Falcons’ safety group this season.