Damontae Kazee had some hype surrounding him when Atlanta took him in the fifth-round of the 2017 draft. As a four-year star at cornerback for San Diego State, Kazee developed a reputation as a ball hawk. That status began his freshman season, when he was not even a starter yet, and recorded three forced fumbles. It was only enhanced when he posted an unreal fifteen interceptions, leading the Mountain West Conference, over his junior and senior seasons.
Size was one of the major reasons teams shied away from the former Aztec. Even if he did show despite being smaller in stature that he was a physical player in college, it was hard to perfectly imagine where he might fit at the NFL level.
In his first season with the Falcons, he was a valuable special teams piece, served as the backup free safety to Ricardo Allen and even started in a game. At no time did he appear out of place and made plays in both the passing game and the run game. His best moment as a rookie came in the Wild Card round against the Los Angeles Rams, when Kazee came from behind and stripped Pharaoh Cooper. It set up the Falcons for a touchdown on their way to a 26-13 win.
Those kind of plays are why Kazee appeared on Pro Football Focus’s list of players they want to see more of in 2018. Gordon McGuinness expands,
“A star at San Diego State between 2014 and 2017, Kazee allowed an NFL passer rating of just 46.5 over that span, surrendering 96 receptions for 1,256 yards and six touchdowns over the course of three seasons. Over the same period of time, he picked off 16 passes and broke up 10 more. Moving to safety in his first season in Atlanta, Kazee saw just one start and was solid both against the run and in coverage.”
The Falcons spent a second-round pick on Isaiah Oliver, clogging up the corner position with high quality talent. That means the plan is to stick with Kazee as a safety where he can most effectively use his ballhawking skills.
What will be interesting to see is if there is a changing of the guard at the free safety position. Atlanta used a second-round tender to keep Ricardo Allen in town for at least one more year. No further commitment has been made after that. With the Falcons on the verge of facing numerous gut-wrenching decisions regarding contract extensions next offseason, having Kazee step up in his sophomore season could allow the team to allocate money elsewhere rather than re-sign Ricardo Allen.
Allen has been a competitor his entire tenure in Atlanta, battling back from the practice squad to becoming a full-time starter in 2015. He has held the position ever since and only gotten better, but the NFL is a cut throat, penny pinching league. If the Falcons can save some money while finding a viable replacement, you better believe they are going to take advantage of it. It is a situation worth monitoring going forward.