Falcons: What will Fabian Moreau’s role be in Dean Pees’ defense?

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Terry Fontenot continued the trend of acquiring one-year stop-gap players at positions of need — running back, safety, linebacker, tight end, and most recently cornerback. Mike Davis is on a team-friendly two-year deal, but the rest — Erik Harris, Brandon Copeland, Barkevious Mingo, Lee Smith, and Fabian Moreau — will hit free agency after 2021 only. Moreau has been the most recent, but he won’t be Fontenot’s last as the interior offensive line will need addressing before anything else. Until then, we can explore exactly what Moreau’s role will be in Dean Pees’ defense.

Over 18 career starts, the 26-year-old has six career interceptions to go along with three forced fumbles and 14 passes defended. Moreau, originally drafted in the third round of the 2017 NFL draft, played in Jack Del Rio’s 4-3 attacking style defense for only one year, and fell out of favor in Washington as the season progressed.

Moreau played 181 snaps — only 4.9% of the snaps on defense — in the 2020 season and had nine games with three snaps or less. It doesn’t make much sense because his play was encouraging, which leads me to believe Moreau was buried on the depth chart as Ron Rivera eluded to, “Fabian has the misfortune of having good guys around him as well.”

Moreau played 72 snaps in the first two games, and he maximized his snaps, intercepting Carson Wentz in Week 1. However, as Kyle Fuller got healthy and the solid play of Ronald Darby and Jimmy Moreland, Moreau slid down the depth chart — his snap count never came near his 46% and 53% marks in the first two weeks. Though he seemed to impress the previous regime — Jay Gruden — with his improvements, it never came to fruition in the Rivera-regime. This doesn’t mean the former UCLA Bruin can’t come in and be a productive piece of Atlanta’s secondary.

If anyone knows what Moreau is capable of, it is Falcons’ vice president of player personnel Kyle Smith, who surely had a saying in the Football Team drafting him out of UCLA in 2017. Falcons fans can expect Moreau to compete with Kendall Sheffield and Isaiah Oliver for CB2 come training camp.

He’s a physical cornerback who was graded by PFF above-average in both coverage and run support. The common theme of finding potential starters with supplemental value on special teams continues with Moreau, who at the very least will be a key contributor for Marquice Williams. Personally, I think he has the potential to start opposite AJ Terrell as Sheffield and Oliver have shown no substantial growth over their respective careers.

Oliver should continue playing in the nickel/ hybrid safety role he took on later in the season last year as he looked much more comfortable covering slot receivers and supporting the run — nickel backs are usually tasked with run support more so than boundary corners due to their proximity to the line of scrimmage.

When Morris was promoted to interim head coach, Jeff Ulbrich was named the defensive coordinator who had this to say about Oliver. “He’s proven to be a very good tackler. He’s got the ability to support the box. Play almost safety-like roles at times. He’s got length, the size, willingness and tackling ability, all of that.” Playing in the slot allows Oliver to pressure more and blitz off the edge, which is exactly what Dean Pees’ expects out of his nickel corner/safety.

This leaves the boundary corner position up for grabs. Unless the Falcons draft a cornerback in the first round or Kendall Sheffield improves exponentially, Moreau will be the starter opposite Terrell. He’s got incredible physical traits and plays an opportunistic brand of football and is versatile enough to play in both man and zone coverage. In the little film I have seen of Moreau, I am more than confident that he’s capable of being an above-average starter in this league and could potentially be Atlanta’s top cover guy in 2021.

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