Dean Pees Reveals Why Falcons Drafted Richie Grant

Dean Pees on Richie Grant

Getty Richie Grant #27 of the Atlanta Falcons warms up.

The Atlanta Falcons added to their secondary during last NFL Draft when they selected versatile safety Richie Grant in the second round out of the University of Central Florida.

However, Grant ended up playing nickel cornerback instead after Isaiah Oliver’s season-ending knee injury in Week 4. It wasn’t a foreign position for him but for an NFL rookie, the job was a lot.

He was forced into a role where he had to take charge of the older guys and communicate––and do it well, which took him out of his comfort zone.

“He kind of felt like, ‘Oh well, I have to give way to Duron and Erik because those guys are older guys who have established themselves. As a rookie I have to know my place and let them take charge,'” defensive coordinator Dean Pees told Falcons’ analyst and team reporter Tori McElhaney.

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Why the Falcons Drafted Grant

Grant’s versatility to play various positions in the secondary was certainly the main reason Atlanta was eyeing him in the draft in the first place. However, his leadership skills while playing at UCF were even more appealing in Pees’s eyes.

And Pees made it clear to the 24-year-old that he shouldn’t be afraid to use his voice because of his rookie status.

He said, “I told him early on, ‘That’s not why we drafted you. We drafted you because when you were at Central Florida you were a take-charge guy. We need that.'”

Grant finished the 2021 season playing in a total 16 games (0 starts) with 35 tackles, one forced fumble and fumble recovery and two passes defended. He played 192 snaps at slot corner and gave up 19 catches on 24 targets (79.2 reception percentage) for a total of 202 yards and an overall defensive PFF grade of 56.8.

While Grant didn’t play the position he was originally drafted for, he couldn’t have been more grateful for the way things turned out in the end.

“I thank my coaches for that, for putting me in that position because it just helped me grow as a leader,” Grant said. “… Just getting comfortable making the call, that I am not wrong in this call.”

Grant Stayed True to His ‘Dog’ Promise

Prior to heading to the NFL, Grant started all but one of 10 games for UCF in 2020 and recorded 72 tackles, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and a QB hit. He was also a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, a prestigious award given to College Football’s top defensive back.

In four seasons with the Knights, the six-foot, 194-pounds safety totaled 291 tackles, 29 pass break ups, 10 interceptions, 11.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.

When asked post-draft what the Falcons were getting in him, Grant said via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “A dog. Pure and sweet. You’re going to get a dog. I’m ready to work. I never thought this could happen, but I’m forever grateful to the Atlanta organization for taking that chance on me. You are about to get a playmaker. A leader on and off the field.”

To no surprise, Grant had a hard time adjusting at the NFL level in Pees’s defensive scheme. He wasn’t deemed a big playmaker but he became a leader as he grew more comfortable as the year went on.

“He’s going to be a good football player,” Falcons secondary coach Jon Hoke told McElhaney. “But he’s young. He’s learning.”

With several players heading to free agency, Grant will now have a chance for a starting role in 2022. Whether he’s ready to take on that job or whether the Falcons think he is a starter remains to be seen, but there are a lot of fans rooting for the UCF product in year two.

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