Damontae Kazee: A Closer Look at Atlanta’s Fifth-Rounder
The defensive back out of San Diego State brings ball skills and versatility–two factors very high on Dan Quinn’s list when evaluating prospects.
There was some collective eye-rolling from Falcons fans prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, as analysts continued to harp on Atlanta’s need for a cornerback. A fairly stacked position heading into the new season, most who follow Atlanta did not see it as an obvious area of need.
So of course Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff threw us somewhat of a curveball, selecting cornerback Damontae Kazee out of San Diego State in the fifth-round of the draft. Where Kazee differs, however, is in his versatility on the field, making him a veritable chess piece in the secondary.
Considered one of the better ball-hawking corners in the entire class, Kazee’s slide can mostly be attributed to his lack of prototypical size for the position. At 5-10, 184-pounds, Kazee does not fit the on-paper profile of what Dan Quinn traditionally seeks in a defensive back. Known for his affinity for long, rangy cornerbacks in the mold of Richard Sherman and Jalen Collins, Quinn went a bit outside the box with Kazee, but ended up with tremendous value in the fifth-round.
His ball skills were fully on display in San Diego, as Kazee secured 15 interceptions over the past two seasons. Despite his slighter build, Damontae has shown an innate ability to attack the football–and that makes him a valuable asset in Atlanta’s defensive backfield. He exhibits quick, instinctive burst, reading quarterbacks to break on the ball or sitting back in zone coverage as a play develops in front of him.
Kazee is a playmaker will undoubtedly contribute: but where he will contribute is the bigger question.
His most likely role in the immediate future will be on special teams and in nickel packages, but further down the line he may supplant Ricardo Allen as Atlanta’s primary free safety.
With Allen’s contract set to expire–and presumably seeking a starting safety’s paycheck–at the end of 2017, it’s a reasonable notion that Kazee was selected as his heir-apparent. The Falcons were expected to draft a safety at some point in the draft, and Atlanta may envision Damontae Kazee in that spot going forward. Dan Quinn has shown flexibility in his personnel, shifting Ricardo Allen to safety in 2015 and recently announcing that Kemal Ishmael would play exclusively at linebacker in the upcoming season.
When considering the recent moves and defensive experimentation, it’s feasible that the Falcons see Damontae Kazee as their free safety of the future. He compares favorably to Allen–they’re both undersized corners with 4.5 speed, but Kazee’s ball skills are evidently better on tape. Damontae is already extremely polished where creating turnover opportunities is concerned, and that may prove to be the primary determinant when evaluating Allen’s situation in 2017.
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Regardless of where they decide to feature him, it’s clear that Atlanta got a steal with the San Diego State cornerback in the fifth-round.