Arthur Smith: Falcons rookies have to improve, specifically Richie Grant

953211226027 det v atl

The Falcons’ 2021 season was incredibly underwhelming, but expectations were probably too high for Atlanta’s subpar roster. For a few reasons, the personnel was just never going to allow him to field a competitive team. The free-agent class was middling because the front office didn’t have much to spend; however, the rookie class was even more disappointing.

Outside of Kyle Pitts, no rookie made a significant impact. If the Falcons are to start heading in the right direction, they need more out of the 2021 draft class. And Arthur Smith knows that better than anyone. Richie Grant, in particular, needs to have a monumental sophomore leap.

When the Falcons drafted Grant with the 40th overall pick, I figured him to be the shoo-in starter next to Erik Harris or Duron Harmon. I noted in a piece before the 2021 NFL Draft that taking him 35th overall — the Falcons’ original second-round pick before Terry Fontenot traded back with the Broncos — would satisfy a team need as well as the “best player available” approach Fontenot intends to use. 

Grant can play any role in any coverage Dean Pees decides to deploy. He possesses sideline-to-sideline range with explosive acceleration, which allows him to take tight ends and running backs in man coverage, not just cover ground as a single-high or split-zone safety. Grant has incredible ball skills but packs a punch as a run-defender. He’s likely a free safety at the next level, but with that said, he can comfortably work in the slot. He can even play in the box when needed due to his efforts in run defense and physical nature.

There are limitations to his game, such as his age and weight. A hair under 200-pounds and 24-years-old, Grant is easily handled by blockers and might not have the same longevity as younger prospects. These are normal concerns, but nothing ground-breaking that can’t be overlooked. His playstyle is aggressive, so he occasionally misses tackles as well as bites on play-action, but he’s a clean prospect with a ton of upside — a future “do-it-all” safety that Pees can move around like a chess piece.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Overall, Grant was on the field for only 23.5% of defensive snaps this season, including four games where he accumulated zero snaps on defense. He only surpassed 50% of defensive snaps in three games while playing in over three-quarters of all special teams snaps. Grant was a mainstay in the third phase of the game, but that’s not exactly what you want from your second-round pick.

Injuries to Isaiah Oliver and Erik Harris resulted in an uptick of snaps, but he received most of his defensive snaps as the nickel back, not as a traditional safety. While Grant is undoubtedly ready to physically compete at the professional level, he just wasn’t there mentally. He possesses the raw talent to be a difference-maker in this league, but without the knowledge of how NFL offenses operate and with a limited understanding of Dean Pees’ scheme, Grant wasn’t able to perform consistently.

Grant finished his first season with 35 tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He logged nearly 200 snaps in the slot, surrendering 19 receptions on 24 targets for over 200 yards. Playing the nickel corner position in Dean Pees’ scheme can be difficult, especially for a rookie with very little knowledge of the system.

He was likely a disappointment for most fans, but in reality, Grant never really got on the field except for special teams. For a rookie in a complex defensive scheme, his rookie year shouldn’t be considered a failure. He has incredible physical gifts; he just needs to catch up at the professional level mentally. The Falcons need Grant — along with the entire rookie class — to take a significant leap in 2022.

Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

We appreciate all of our readers’ support; if you haven’t, please check out the SportsTalkATL store!



Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: