The safety position is one spot, where turnover could certainly be coming. Both Thomas Decoud and James Sanders are both out of contract this season and one or both could be leaving the Falcons over the next few months.
One player who will not be leaving in a hurry is starting strong safety William Moore. He continued to be very impressive in 2011 and was on course for a pro bowl berth but sadly his campaign was hampered by injuries through the middle part of the season, preventing him from that honor. Moore can “bring the pain” with his hitting, proven by his two forced fumbles in 2011 and is clearly one of the best all round run stopping safeties in the league. He certainly is not limited in coverage either as he intercepted two passes this year and constantly did a good job covering his side of the field.
Moore will be the starting safety next year without doubt and should continue to star in the Falcons’ secondary for years to come. The only concern at this stage is his health. He has missed quite a bit of time through injury in his 3 year career and if that continues that could evolve into a concern for the Falcons.
Other starter from this past year was Thomas Decoud. Starting at Free Safety, Decoud struggled at times this year when asked to play as the last line of defense in cover 1 or cover 3 looks. His performance in the run game was decent and in general his play wasn’t that bad, but in BVG’s bend but don’t break scheme giving up deep pass plays is a big “no-no” and Decoud was susceptible to giving up those type of plays.
As Decoud is a free agent, his return is uncertain at this point (Check out my analysis of Decoud’s situation and others in the free agency preview). While he could return I am expecting new DC Mike Nolan to try and bring somebody in if he feels Decoud doesn’t fit his system.
James Sanders is also a free agent. Sanders played a very important role throughout the year for the Falcons as the 3rd safety and saw a lot of playing time at both SS and FS due to injuries (William Moore) and poor performances (DeCoud). His versatility should be attractive to the Falcons and they should look to retain him. The prospect of seeing him play after a full offseason with the team (he signed just before the 2011 regular season) should also be appealing for the coaches.
I have to think only one of Decoud and Sanders will be retained. It is tough to say who it will be at this early stage but Sanders on the face of it would likely be the cheaper option.
The final active safety for the Falcons this year was Shann Shillinger. He saw little to no playing time on defense and is viewed as strictly as a special teams player at this stage in his career. Shillinger was a 6th round pick in 2010 and I’m not sure how high his potential is at safety. He is under contract for next year and will be in the fix for a roster spot in training camp.
The Falcons could well be considering their options at safety in March and April this year. In free agency 49ers FS Darron Gholdson is the best option after a terrific 2011 season. Reggie Nelson and Laron Landry will also be considerations.
In the draft, safeties are few and far between. Alabama S Mark Barron is the only real star in the draft but is more of a strong safety like William Moore, which the Falcons are not desperate for.
Where do you see the safety position going in 2012? Stick your thoughts in the comments section below.