Jaylinn Hawkins is Falcons ‘best-kept secret’ says Bleacher Report

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The Falcons will have one of the best cornerback tandems in football, with A.J. Terrell and Casey Hayward manning the boundaries; however, the same can’t be said for the safety unit.

Last season, Dean Pees had to roll out Erik Harris and Duron Harmon for much of the season, despite Terry Fontenot drafting Richie Grant in the second round. Harris and Harmon were reliable veterans for the Falcons in 2021, but there was much left to be desired. Grant’s physical attributes make his ceiling much higher than either Harris or Harmon; unfortunately, he just couldn’t get ahold of the mental side of the game.

It seems Grant will get his chance in 2022. And even though the team re-signed Harris, it looks like Jaylinn Hawkins will also receive an opportunity to win the other starting spot on the backend. In a radio interview on 92.9 The Game, Pees said about a month ago, “I think we got two good young safeties who will get their opportunity now this year,” referring to Grant and Hawkins.

The Falcons’ defense will surely have growing pains, given how many young players are set to have significant roles in 2022. The defensive front will see time from Ta’Quon Graham, Ade Ogundeji, Arnold Ebiketie, and DeAngelo Malone. The second level could see Troy Andersen or Mykal Walker starting next to Rashaan Evans with Deion Jones‘s future in doubt. And on the third level, Grant and Hawkins will be tasked as the last line of defense.

That is a ton of inexperience at every level of the defense. However, at least one of those young defenders could surprise a lot of people this season. According to Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton, Jaylinn Hawkins is the Falcons’ best-kept secret.

In 2021, Jaylinn Hawkins took the field for 49 percent of the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive snaps, though he made enough plays on the ball to earn consideration for an expanded role in the upcoming season. The 2020 fourth-rounder finished with 24 tackles, one for loss, three pass breakups and two interceptions through 14 games (four starts).

After a year with the Falcons, safety Duron Harmon signed with the Las Vegas Raiders, and Erik Harris will go into his age-32 campaign. As a second-rounder from the 2021 draft, Richie Grant has upside, but Hawkins showcased more of his potential last year.

At 6’1″, 208 pounds, Hawkins can play the deep safety role or line up in the box to supplement the run, which bodes well for his chance at a full-time starting position.

If the Falcons’ defense is to out-perform expectations, some of their rookies, second-year, and third-year players will have to step up in a big way. I believe Hawkins is much more likely to burst onto the scene than his counterpart in the secondary. He’s more experienced than Grant and showed last season that he could be a solid player for Pees. Falcons fans are eager to see how Grant turns out, but this year will be more about Hawkins’ play than the 2021 second-rounder.

Photographer: Bob Kupbens/Icon Sportswire
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