Atlanta Falcons Head Coach Raheem Morris Breaks Silence on Richie Grant

Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris discusses embattled fourth-year safety Richie Grant
Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant
Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant / Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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When reminiscing on the Atlanta Falcons’ 2023 season, it’s likely that safety Richie Grant’s role isn’t among the first things to come to mind - at least not positively. Grant was graded the 89th safety out of 95 eligible by Pro Football Focus (PFF)

Instead, one may ponder the quarterback carousel, the firing of head coach Arthur Smith, or the disappointing 7-10 season marred by four losses in the final five games.

But Grant’s sudden swing from cemented starter to seldom-used rotational piece and special teams player is a part — if only minor — of Atlanta’s story last year.

Grant, a 2021 second-round pick who started every game in 2022 and didn’t miss a defensive snap for the first nine contests in 2023, lost his job to seventh-round rookie DeMarcco Hellams down the stretch.

Atlanta began utilizing more three-safety looks after its Week 11 bye, and while Grant played at least 75% of the team’s defensive snaps in the first three games following thereafter, his role began changing.

In Weeks 14 through 16, Grant played just 11%, 38% and 42% of the Falcons’ snaps on defense. Hellams and Jessie Bates III were running the show on Atlanta’s back-end. Grant was on the backburner.

But in Week 18, with Hellams out due to a concussion, Grant played every snap, making 10 tackles while adding one sack and a tackle for loss.

By all accounts, Grant’s disappointing, rollercoaster-ride campaign mirrored that of the Falcons overall — but new head coach Raheem Morris believes Grant has brighter days ahead.

“I told Richie when I got here that I was wrong on him,” Morris said. “I didn't think he was as good a player as he is. And he's played really well and does some good things, tackles strong. I was in another place, obviously, when I evaluated him.

“But he's shown me a lot of really good things on tape.”

The 26-year-old Grant finished this past season ranked No. 4 on the team in tackles with 103; only four Falcons eclipsed the 100-tackle mark, as Grant and Bates were joined by linebackers Kaden Elliss and Nate Landman.

Grant, who stands 6-0, 200 pounds, added six passes defended, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception.

He struggled in pass coverage, allowing 39 receptions for 543 yards and six touchdowns on just 57 targets, according to Pro Football Reference. Opposing quarterbacks completed 68.4% of their passes thrown in Grant’s direction.

Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot, assessing Grant’s value since arriving in Flowery Branch three years ago, pointed towards Grant’s instant impact on special teams.

As a rookie, Grant played at least 80 percent of special teams snaps in 12 of the 16 games he appeared. His role in the game’s third phase was inversely affected by his ascent to starting safety, but he returned to his roots at the end of last season.

Over the final six games, Grant played at least 59% of the Falcons’ special teams snaps after eclipsing 50% just once in the first 11.

Fontenot, dawning back to when Grant was at phase one in Atlanta, believes the Lumberton, Mississippi, native has a stable floor as a special teams standout.

This is particularly valuable as the Falcons move forward this offseason with Grant still on the roster, as he was considered a primary candidate to be a cap casualty.

According to OverTheCap, Atlanta saves over $3 million in cutting Grant incurring only $843,343 in dead money. In a league where every cent counts, Grant’s place on the roster became a topic of discussion as he enters the final-year of his rookie contract.

But the Falcons, who employ several staff members with secondary-heavy backgrounds, have a plan for Grant — and Fontenot, a former safety at Tulane University, feels Morris and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake can help him fulfill it.

“Where Richie excelled more was playing near the line of scrimmage, doing some of those different things, pressuring,” Fontenot said of Grant's three sacks last year. “He's got to improve things in coverage and some areas of his game, but we truly believe he's going to do that with Raheem and with our secondary coaches.”

And so, despite the potential cap benefits, Grant’s spot appears safe entering the summer — a notion only furthered by the Falcons failing to add a defensive back in the NFL Draft.

Opportunity exists for Grant to post his third-consecutive 100-tackle season. There’s also a possibility he’s the third wheel to Bates and Hellams.

But this much is true: the Falcons are fond of Grant — and will give him every chance to show why this summer.

Daniel Flick


Daniel Flick is an accredited NFL writer for Sports Illustrated's FanNation. Daniel has provided boots-on-ground coverage at the NFL Combine and from the Atlanta Falcons' headquarters, among other destinations, and contributed to the annual Lindy's Sports Magazine ahead of the 2023 offseason. Daniel is a co-host on the 404TheFalcon podcast and previously wrote for the Around the Block Network and Georgia Sports Hospitality Media.