The Atlanta Falcons roster is full of young players and journeymen, so when Bleacher Report (B/R) put out a list of the Best-Kept Secret on Every NFL Roster, it wasn’t easy to guess who they would pick for the Falcons.
B/R went with third-year safety Jaylinn Hawkins.
“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,” writes Maurice Moton of B/R. “The 2020 fourth-rounder finished with 24 tackles, one for loss, three pass breakups and two interceptions through 14 games (four starts).”
Hawkins finished the 2021 season as the No. 66 rated safety by Pro Football Focus (three spots ahead of starter Duron Harmon). He graded just a 58.8 and with just 24 tackles, he wasn’t on the mind of many people outside of Atlanta, making him truly a secret.
Moton thinks Hawkins could break out his third year in Atlanta.
“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,” wrote Moton. 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.”
The Falcons will be hoping Grant takes a big leap forward in 2022. Grant is in his second season, but he’ll turn 25 in November, so he’s not exactly a wide-eyed youngster out there. Grant played just 25% of the Falcons’ defensive snaps in 2021 and had a similar PFF grade as Hawkins with 58.6.
The Falcons’ secondary should be helped out by an improved pass rush in 2022. Lorenzo Carter was signed at edge to replace Dante Fowler who departed as a free agent to the Cowboys.
The Falcons also used a second and third-round pick on edge rushers Arnold Ebiketie and DeAngelo Malone. While depending on a pair of rookies to beef up the pass rush may not sound like a wise strategy, it would be statistically impossible for them not to do better than Steven Means who started 14 games.
Means didn’t record a sack and had just two hits on the quarterback all season, both in Week 5 against the New York Jets.
The Falcons defense could look much better in 2022, but they’ll need better play from the safety position. B/R thinks Hawkins could be that guy in 2022.