A surprising change is apparently coming to the Atlanta Falcons secondary depth chart.
NFL insider Aaron Wilson reported on Tuesday that the Falcons released safety Jaylinn Hawkins.
A fourth-round pick from the 2020 NFL draft, Hawkins started 16 games for Atlanta last season. However, the Falcons signed safety Jessie Bates III this offseason. As a result, Hawkins didn’t start any of Atlanta’s first six games in 2023.
But not only has Hawkins not started, he’s barely played on defense. Hawkins had 29 defensive snaps in the first six weeks. He didn’t receive any defensive snaps in two of Atlanta’s first six games.
Last season, he lined up for 955 snaps on defense.
With Bates on the roster, the Falcons moved Hawkins primarily into a special teams role. Hawkins played 125 special teams snaps in the first six weeks this season, which accounted for 81% of Atlanta’s snaps on special teams.
In his first three years, Hawkins never played more than 52% of the team’s special teams snaps during an individual season.
Last year, Hawkins never lined up for more than 10 snaps on the special teams unit in a game. This season, he had at least 21 special teams snaps in each of the first five contests.
If that pace continued, Hawkins would set a new career high in special teams snaps before the end of Week 13.
Signing Bates is the primary reason for the steep decline in defensive playing time for Hawkins. Bates has played all but 5 of Atlanta’s snaps on defense.
But fellow starting safety Richie Grant also plays a lot. Grant is one of two Falcons defenders who has lined up for every snap on defense.
With Grant and Bates nearly on the field all the time, there has been very little playing time for any other Falcons safety.
Still, it’s surprising that the Falcons cut Hawkins on Tuesday. It will be interesting to see if there was another reason (other than decreased playing time) for his surprise release ahead of Week 7.
Update, 11:45 a.m. 10/18/23 – In a corresponding move, Micah Abernathy has been signed to the 53-man roster from the practice squad.
In 16 starts last season, Hawkins posted 84 combined tackles, 6 pass defenses and 2 interceptions. He has 3 combined tackles this season.