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After Quiet Rookie Season, Richie Grant Rewarding Falcons' Patience

Atlanta Falcons safety Richie Grant arrived with immense external expectations, but that wasn't necessarily the case inside the building, at least as it pertained to his rookie season. With three games under his belt in year two, Grant's development-filled first campaign appears to be paying off.

It was 4th-and-18, and the Atlanta Falcons defense needed to make one more play to get the team its first win of the season.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith dropped back to pass, was forced to evade the pocket following pressure from defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and uncorked a bullet towards receiver Tyler Lockett.

The pass was caught - but not by Lockett. Instead, it went right into the waiting hands of a jumping Richie Grant, capping off another standout performance from the second-year safety and putting the finishing touches on a 27-23 Atlanta victory.

Grant finished with seven tackles and two passes defended, including a ball-dislodging hit on Lockett earlier in the game. Additionally, the 2021 second-round pick was Atlanta's highest-graded defensive player against Seattle, per Pro Football Focus.

Through three weeks, Grant is the Falcons' second-leading tackler with 23 and trails only All-Pro cornerback A.J. Terrell in passes defended, an indication of his versatility and value in both run support and pass coverage.

Grant's interception, with all that it meant to the game, was one of the Falcons' biggest defensive plays of the season. And yet, for Jarrett, an eighth-year pro, there was a bigger picture takeaway from Grant's play.

"It's definitely encouraging to see (Grant) step up and make that play," said Jarrett. "(Grant and safety Jaylinn Hawkins) are ballhawks back there and for them to be able to show that is good, as me being an older player and seeing him in year two make that big play in a hectic environment is awesome."

The second-year leap is a common phenomenon in the NFL; rookie years often come with significant learning curves and expose weaknesses relating to both physical and mental skills.

For Grant, the interception - which was the first of his career - was a culmination of the work that's been put in over the last 16 months. The Falcons drafted Grant with the No. 40 overall pick, and he arrived with the outside expectation that he'd see considerable work as a rookie.

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However, Grant's first season didn't exactly go as many had hoped. While he played in 16 games, he didn't receive a single start and saw more snaps on special teams than with the defense, falling behind Hawkins and veteran safeties Erik Harris and Duron Harmon on the depth chart.

The situation frustrated many on the outside, as Grant was viewed as a potential building block but wasn't being given a chance to prove himself. Contrary to popular belief, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith believes Grant's season largely went according to plan.

Letting the 24-year-old learn from the sidelines while being eased into action was what the team viewed as the best scenario from the start, and something that's ultimately worked "paid off" in year two, per Smith.

"Everybody wanted instant gratification; Richie Grant's playing pretty damn good football right now, he really is," Smith said. "Sometimes if you rush guys too early, it can be a detriment to their career. You've just got to evaluate it case-by-case, and there's been a plan. It's good to see it pay off for guys like Richie."

Grant's development has not only been beneficial for himself and his career trajectory but, as he proved against Seattle, a significant boost to Atlanta's defense. 

Still, Grant has just three starts under his belt; growing pains are to be expected. But as time has shown, patience is a virtue, and Grant has more than proven that his upside is worth the wait.

You can follow Daniel Flick on Twitter @DFlickDraft

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