Falcons: Mid-to-late round safeties Terry Fontenot should target in the NFL draft

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Given the Falcons salary cap situation, Terry Fontenot has preached they must hit on the later-round draft picks as well as the lower-priced free agents if they want to be successful in 2021.

“We’re going to have to find players because you can’t just build your roster with overpaid players in free agency or top draft picks. We have to really dig and find value in free agency,” Fontenot said via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s working with the coaches and finding exactly what they need and going and finding the players that they need. That’s throughout the entire draft, and that’s in undrafted free agency. So, we have to be scouts and go find good players that can really fit the make-up and profile that we are looking for.”

I began this series breaking down the mid-to-late round running backs that could pique the interest of Fontenot; now, we move on to the safeties.

Tariq Thompson

Thompson epitomizes the exact type of safety the Falcons want to acquire — a versatile chess piece that can play all over the field. In his 47 games started, Thompson took snaps at deep safety, in the box, and in the slot. He started over 3,000 defensive snaps, over 250 special teams snaps, and rarely committed any penalties — just three in 3,013 snaps. At the very least, Thompson could contribute on special teams. He isn’t the most athletic prospect, but he showed good instincts and play recognition in college. Thompson has a nose for the football and is very smooth in and out of his breaks — a sleeper pick in this year’s draft at a position of need.

Hamsah Nasirildeen

If Thompson is the versatile slot safety that can cover man-to-man, Hamsah Nasirildeen is the versatile box safety that can support the run and cover tight ends. He had 91 tackles as a sophomore and finished with 101 tackles while forcing three fumbles the next season. The Florida State product has the size to defend against the run while showing he might have more to offer in coverage than previously billed, making him a versatile mid-to-late-round defensive weapon. Coming out of college, Keanu Neal wasn’t as athletic or proven in pass coverage as Nasirildeen, and with the news that Neal won’t be tagged, it seems like a natural transition.

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Paris Ford

Ford is another versatile safety who might have size concerns, but those who turn on the tape know he can lay the wood. The Pittsburgh product can play in the box, in the slot, or drop deep due to his immaculate run-defense and reliable pass-coverage. He uses his incredible play-recognition skills in tandem with his blazing speed to reach the ball carrier and put them on the ground. Much like a linebacker, Ford can play from sideline to sideline, covering almost every single blade of grass if needed. Excellent in zone coverage, as Pitt often ran zone, he can cover ground with his speed, disrupting passing lanes and forcing quarterbacks to squeeze throws into incredibly tight windows. He’s good at the point of contact as well, always playing the ball instead of the man, but I believe he can cover tight ends and slot receivers given his elite speed, serving as both a safety who can play close to the line while also dropping back deeper in coverage.

Ar’Darius Washington

Washington is a smart, athletic, and physical prospect who always finds himself around the ball. He plays much bigger than his numbers indicate, displaying the athletic ability and playmaking skills needed to make up for those size deficiencies. Washington shows great range in deep zone coverage, attacks the ball in the air extremely well, and is a willing and reliable tackler who does a great job of coming up and offering support against the run.

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Photo: Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire

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