The Falcons didn’t get much out of their 2021 rookie class. Outside of Kyle Pitts, Atlanta’s first draft class under the new regime either didn’t affect the game at all or negatively affected it. If the team is to compete on any level in 2022, they need a lot more out of that crop of players. Arthur Smith knows that better than anyone. Richie Grant, in particular, needs to have a monumental sophomore leap.
I was very high on Grant coming out of UCF and was overjoyed when Atlanta selected him in the second round. However, his intangibles hadn’t quite caught up with his physical skill set. Grant not only rarely made an impact on the defensive side of the ball, but he hardly made it on the field, period.
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. A core special teamer isn’t what an organization is hoping for with a second-round pick.
In an interview with John Fricke and Hugh Douglas on 92.9 The Game Friday morning, Dean Pees reiterated similar talking points and even hinted that Grant and Jaylinn Hawkins are going to have bigger roles in the defense this season.
“I think we got two good young safeties who are going to get their opportunity now this year,” Pees said.
I don’t think this is hyperbole when I say it’ll be a huge disappointment and a massive wart on the regime if Grant doesn’t win one of the starting safety jobs. However, from the sound of things, the two young defenders will have the first crack at the starting lineup.
Pees also pointed out in the interview that Grant was dealt an unfair hand in certain instances last season, mentioning Isaiah Oliver‘s injury thrusting Grant into a nickel role. Clearly, it seems Grant will have a longer leash and be afforded the opportunity to truly break out in 2022.
The Falcons signed a bevy of veterans to bolster the secondary — Erik Harris, Dean Marlowe, and Teez Tabor. Which Pees said made him feel good about the group. Obviously, as a fan, you want Grant and Hawkins to assume the starting roles, but the veteran depth will be there in case the young guns come up short.
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