The Atlanta Falcons have a Pro Bowl caliber safety in William Moore, but they don’t have a free safety capable of patrolling the last lines of defense to provide a safety blanket for their young cornerbacks. Thomas DeCoud could have been exactly that following a stellar 2012 season, however he regressed last year leading to his unceremonious dumping from the squad. He will enter the 2014 campaign as the starting free safety on the division rival Panthers’ ferocious defense.
If the Falcons gave up a player like DeCoud who showed signs of promise (albeit taking a step back last year), it would be safe to assume that they had a couple of suitable replacements ready to sign right? Wrong.
Even in DeCoud’s lacklustre season, he started 15 games and accumulated 65 total tackles. Enter his replacement Dwight Lowery, who in the past three seasons with Jacksonville managed just 68 total tackles and barely enough passes defended and interceptions to warrant discussion. He ended the past two seasons on injured reserve and his games played totals have decreased every year from thirteen in 2011 to just three last year.
The best thing that the Falcons can do at this position is to give 3rd round draft choice Dezmen Southward a shot at stealing the job away from Lowery. The rookie has prototypical size for the position, standing 6 feet tall and weighing in at a feather over 210 pounds. The kid has God given speed you can’t teach, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.38s at the combine. Southward has great zone coverage skills as a result of his exceptional lateral movement & straight-line speed. During his time as a Wisconsin Badger, he even lined up on slot receivers when his number was called. He is also an extremely reliable tackler who can help solidify the run defense behind the young linebackers.
One of the few knocks on Southward is his inability to make plays on the ball, so hopefully he can develop his defensive awareness through determined study of game film and the playbook. He has the quickness to get to the ball, so as long as his recognition improves there should be no reason why he can’t come away with his share of interceptions and breakups.
Unfortunately the NFC South is a division stacked with offensive firepower, where you MUST be able to defend the deep ball. The rocket arms of Drew Brees, Cam Newton and the much improved Bucs with their duo of gigantic receivers will be too much to handle if Lowery & Southward can’t step up their game.