PFF ranks Falcons secondary as worst unit in the league

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The Falcons drafted multiple secondary defenders in this past April’s NFL draft, but as far as Pro Football Focus is concerned, Atlanta’s secondary is the worst unit in the league. PFF noted that one elite cornerback usually alleviates pressure on other members of the secondary but added that having no weak links in the unit may be more valuable when you consider how capable offensive coordinators can target specific matchups and exploit them. Furthermore, the rankings looked at each team’s three starting cornerbacks — including the nickel — and two starting safeties, attempting to balance high-end talent with depth. Here’s what PFF’s Ben Linsey had to say about the Falcons secondary:

Four safeties played at least 200 snaps for the Falcons last season — Keanu NealRicardo AllenSharrod Neasmann and Damontae Kazee. None of them are still with Atlanta. Veteran free agents Erik Harris and Duron Harmon, along with recent draft selections Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant, will form a new-look safety unit in 2021.

The Falcons will need better play out of their young cornerbacks, as well. None of A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield have recorded a coverage grade higher than 60.0 in the past two seasons.

Linsey is spot on regarding the personnel turnover at safety, as the top-four players — in terms of snaps at the position — are no longer with the team. But I think he’s underestimating the impact Duron Harmon and Richie Grant can have in this new-look Falcons defense run by Dean Pees. Because Pees runs nickel packages at a high rate, these defensive backs will be important to the unit’s success as a whole.

I believe the duo of Harmon and Grant will be a pleasant surprise in 2021. Safeties in this scheme need to be able to defend against the run, drop into coverage and rush the passer from the slot, the box, and single-high. Although he will play free safety, Harmon’s ability to provide elite run-support is among the best in the league at his position. It’s much of the same with Grant who exudes similar ability defending the run, doing a great job filling gaps because of his cerebral way of playing the game — quick and accurate diagnostic skills, regardless of his alignment. The physicality Grant displays makes playing in non-traditional free safety alignments possible.

I won’t argue with Linsey’s assessment of the cornerback room, though; it is uninspiring. A.J. Terrell responded well to receiving a heavy target share but was still inconsistent in giving up big plays, and behind him… it’s bad. Fabian Moreau didn’t quite work out in Washington, but hopefully, it’s because of the talent around him and not his play, which I believe is true. Isaiah Oliver might only be a nickel/slot defender, but he showed well there at the tail end of the season. And Kendall Sheffield has experienced little to no growth since entering the league.

Dean Pees will have his hands full with this unit, but I believe the safety position isn’t nearly as dismal as the cornerbacks.



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