With the Atlanta Falcons eyeing a rebuild following their fourth consecutive season of missing the playoffs, the development of young, cheap players is integral.
According to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, there are already two players headed towards a bigger role.
Speaking on the 92.9 The Game radio station, Pees stated, “I think we got two good young safeties who are going to get their opportunity now this year,” referencing second and third-year pros Richie Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins, respectively.
The 6-1, 208-pound Hawkins played in 14 games last season with four starts. He accumulated 24 total tackles with two interceptions and three passes defended. A fourth-round pick in 2020 by the previous regime, Hawkins impressed with his ball skills down the stretch.
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Grant was Terry Fontenot’s second selection as a general manager and viewed as an instant impact type of player, but didn’t quite have that effect as a rookie. Following Isaiah Oliver’s injury, Grant became one of several players to fill in at the nickel position. While the man coverage ability, speed, and athleticism Grant showed at UCF carried over to the NFL as expected, he struggled tackling, and didn’t receive enough snaps at safety to prove himself.
Just a few weeks ago, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith highlighted Grant as one of last year’s rookies most in need of a big step forward entering year two.
Grant appeared in 16 games, starting none, and played a large role in Atlanta’s special teams unit. He totaled 35 tackles, two for loss, and two passes defended. At his best, Grant projects as a starting single-high safety who can rotate down and cover receivers in the slot.
For a Falcons roster desperately in need of talent, Grant and Hawkins have a chance to assert themselves as building blocks on the back end of Atlanta’s defense. Should the two take the next step, it positions Atlanta nicely to have a solid secondary, with A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward, and Oliver forming one of the better cornerback trios in the NFL.