Breaking down the 2023 Atlanta Falcons training camp roster: Safeties

Jessie Bates III and DeMarco Hellams get added to what was already a promising group.
Los Angeles Chargers v Atlanta Falcons
Los Angeles Chargers v Atlanta Falcons / Todd Kirkland/GettyImages

Safety is arguably the most underrated position in any defense, but the Atlanta Falcons have invested heavily in the position in the last few years. Between spending three picks on safeties with Jaylinn Hawkins, DeMarco Hellams, and Richie Grant, and the big signing of Jessie Bates, the Falcons are betting on the talent level of this group to be much improved heading into the 2023 season than it ever has in the past. Bates and Grant are the headliners, but don't be surprised to see Hawkins and even Hellams get some playing time in 2023.

Jessie Bates

Career Stats: 479 Tackles, 6 Tackles for Loss, 2 QB Hits, 14 Interceptions, 3 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 43 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown

Jessie Bates III was the Atlanta Falcons' biggest free agent acquisition in the 2023 offseason and should instantly upgrade the free safety position from what Richie Grant was doing in 2022. The addition of Bates will help the defense rebuild in 2023 and should vastly improve the coverage communication on the back end of the defense. By having a true leader in the third level, the Falcons could really end up with one of the best secondaries in the NFL in 2023.

Bates is an All-Pro caliber safety who will push Jaylinn Hawkins into a reserve role where he will be more effective as well. Sometimes, a player who isn't expected to have a massive impact because of their position ends up being the most impactful player on the unit. Just like the offensive line with Chris Lindstrom at right guard, the biggest impact player in the Falcons' defense will be the free safety, a notably lower impact spot than outside cornerback.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Free Safety

Richie Grant

Career Stats: 158 Tackles, 5 Tackles for Loss, 1 QB Hit, 2 Interceptions, 2 Fumbles Forced, 2 Fumbles Recovered, 9 Pass Deflections

Richie Grant fits the perfect style of player that new defensive minds Ryan Nielsen and Jerry Gray want when it comes to the strong safety role in Atlanta. While the Falcons ran a split-safety middle-of-the-field-closed-type concept in 2021 and 2022, that is going to change with Nielsen and Gray at the helm to more of a cover-2 middle-of-the-field open-type defense in 2023. The Falcons really love Grant because of his ability to play either spot at safety and his high-level football instincts.

When it comes to the scheme the Falcons will be running in 2023, Grant should see a lot more opportunities to make plays on the ball and be closer to what he was running at Central Florida when he was making play after play on the ball. The Falcons will see an uptick in his play by adding Bates next to him and putting him between Bates and A.J. Terrell in the secondary so that he can roam free a bit more and make more plays due to the talent around him. Expect a breakout year for Grant in 2023 where he might even be considered for some Pro Bowl and All-Pro lists.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Starting Strong Safety

Jaylinn Hawkins

Career Stats: 121 Tackles, 1 Tackle for Loss, 0.5 Sacks, 2 QB Hits, 4 Interceptions, 1 Fumble Forced, 1 Fumble Recovered, 9 Pass Deflections, 1 Defensive Touchdown

The Falcons have great depth at both safety spots in reserve safety Jaylinn Hawkins. He was the starting strong safety in 2022 and will be a depth safety at both strong and free for 2023. Hawkins was a fourth-round pick under the old regime and has a lot of traits that free safeties should have, but his coverage instincts still leave a bit to be desired before using him as a starter. He should also play a big role on special teams in 2023. While he is first in line for a big nickel role that should be used around 20 percent of the time, the Falcons will see him mostly as a gunner.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for reserve safety and special teams role

DeMarcco Hellams

Rookie Year

The Atlanta Falcons spent one of their seventh-round picks taking an Alabama defender who will fit right in with the concepts the team likes to use under new coordinator Ryan Nielsen and new defensive mind Jerry Gray in DeMarcco Hellams. Hellams was a starting safety for Nick Saban's team for two seasons and really showed that he could be a competent safety at the next level there. While he will be a bit of a work in progress with pro coverage concepts, he should instantly be a reserve safety on the roster and be a big asset for special teams.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for reserve safety and special teams role

Micah Abernathy

Career Stats: 1 Tackle

Micah Abernathy might be the best athlete that the Atlanta Falcons have on their roster at safety. They are relying on his athleticism to be what keeps him in their reserve safety and special teams safety role for the 2023 season. His play tends to skew more towards a traditional strong safety, but with his ability to go downfield quickly and impact on special teams, he might end up with a roster spot as a gunner. The worst case scenario for Abernathy is that he's going to end up as a player who sits on the practice squad until an injury forces him to come up and be on the 53-man roster.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for reserve safety and special teams role

Lukas Dennis

Rookie Year

The Atlanta Falcons wanted more competition at safety for 2023. They have some depth questions at free safety with Jaylinn Hawkins being the only real free safety on the roster behind Richie Grant and Jessie Bates. Atlanta brought in XFL safety Lukas Dennis to have a shot at the roster. He had two interceptions and racked up the tackles in the XFL, but the NFL is a different beast. He may not end up as a roster player in 2023, but the Falcons might have him on the practice squad as someone who can compete for snaps on special teams and as a deep reserve safety.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for reserve safety and special teams role

Clifford Chattman

Rookie Year

Clifford Chattman was the most unique safety prospect in terms of body type and athleticism in the most recent draft. While he's not exactly a speedster, he is a playmaker with five interceptions and 14 pass deflections during his final year at UTSA. He's got great instincts playing the ball and is a solid all-around tackler. He could stand to gain some more size and might be better suited to play linebacker in the pro level, but he could be a unique coverage weapon against tight ends in the NFL. He likely has to earn a spot on the roster through special teams, but could be on the practice squad.

Role with the Falcons in 2023: Competing for reserve safety and special teams role

All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.