Unproven safety position lands Falcons secondary among league’s worst in PFF rankings

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The Falcons don’t have many superstar-caliber players on the roster, but at the very least, they have one on each side of the ball. During his rookie campaign, Kyle Pitts broke a bevy of league and franchise records en route to the Pro Bowl — the first rookie to do so since Jeremy Shockey in 2002. He’s already one of the five best tight ends in the league, and he’s only scratching the surface.

AJ Terrell is the other certifiable stud. In his second season as a pro, the Clemson product was deservedly awarded All-Pro honors. He’s excellent in man and zone coverage and should only continue to ascend as his IQ improves with experience. The Falcons made the decision not to bring back Fabian Moreau and instead upgraded by signing Casey Hayward to a two-year pact. The former Pro Bowl corner is an excellent free-agent addition that will be a valuable mentor for a green Falcons secondary.

Outside of those two, though, there are a lot of question marks. And that’s reflected in Pro Football Focus’ secondary rankings. The Falcons were ranked 22nd overall, placed in the “serious flaws” tier of Michael Renner’s list.

Projected Starters:

CB: A.J. Terrell
CB: Casey Hayward Jr.
NCB: Isaiah Oliver
S: Jaylinn Hawkins
S: Erik Harris

No cornerback duo heading into 2022 gave up fewer yards last season than Casey Hayward and A.J. Terrell, who combined to allow only 588 yards. While it’s not quite that simple, with Hayward playing in Las Vegas in 2021, that’s a good starting point for a defense. The problem is, that’s also where it ends in terms of reasons to get excited about this unit.

Renner is correct to be skeptical. Harris is a veteran that was solid in 2021 but isn’t anything to write home about. Even though he was playing the best ball of his career before going down with a season-ending injury, Oliver shouldn’t be expected to come back and play at that same level in 2022. He missed a significant amount of time and might not be the player we saw at the beginning of 2021.

Jaylinn Hawkins and Richie Grant are the X factors. The Falcons should have a halfway decent secondary if they can take leaps forward in their respective development. But if they both struggle, this will be a pitiful unit. It’s all dependent on the young safety duo.

David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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