Falcons on Track With Drafting Versatile Players

keanu neal

getty Ricardo Allen #37 and Keanu Neal #22 of the Atlanta Falcons.

One might look at the Falcons’ roster and see there are one too many active tight ends, others might look at it and not see a problem at all.

Since everyone is healthy, the Falcons currently have three starting safeties: Damontae Kazee, Keanu Neal, and Ricardo Allen. This leaves one extra safety spot and an untraditional NFL roster.

The Falcons’ untraditional roster puts them in the perfect position to test out a new trend that has already been going on a few times.

Interchangeable Players

Football appears to be headed in a similar direction as the NBA in the sense that teams are learning to put the ball in the hands of their best players even though the player doesn’t fit the standard prototype of what the position normally is. There are athletic running backs out there who run routes like wide receivers and linebackers who can run just as fast as cornerbacks.

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told AtlantaFalcons.com he strongly believes you can interchange safeties.

“You get athletic safeties out there, you can interchange them,” Dimitroff said. “We have to be versatile. We have to have numbers at corners and safeties, guys who can move. It’s not just about the old in-the-box safety that can nut up on people. That person will be isolated at times when they’re trying to cover a tight end or a running back. You have to be adept enough in coverage.”

Teams are now looking for faster and more athletic linebackers and safeties as opposed to bigger, stronger and slower ones of traditional, past rosters.

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Dan Quinn Ahead of the Trend

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has already seen the potential in a lot of players at different positions.

Foyesade Oluokun was drafted as a safety out of Yale. At his pro day workout, he measured in at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and the 40-yard dash in just 4.48 seconds. Quinn moved him to linebacker where he performed better than as a safety.

Keanu Neal, who is 6-foot-1 and 216 pounds is another versatile player with linebacker and safety skill sets. Neal is known for his run game and a player that matches up beautifully against tight ends.

Unfortunately, the ability to be versatile doesn’t fit all player profiles.

The Falcons attempted to use Damontae Kazee as its nickel corner early on last season, but it was clear he didn’t belong there. Once he was moved back to free safety he became a playmaker for Atlanta.

Ricardo Allen falls right in between Neal and Kazee. In the 2019 season, Allen was needed to occupy the box safety role in Falcons’ defense. He stands at just 5-foot-9 and weighing 186 pounds, but his football intelligence and understanding of opposing schemes gives him the ability to hold his own.

As the draft draws closer and closer and free agency is looming, we could possibly see the Falcons continue to make their selections based on athleticism and not just position.

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