Falcons defensive back Damontae Kazee has come a long way since the Falcons drafted him in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. After the Falcons lost Ricardo Allen to a season-ending injury in week 3 last season, Kazee stepped in and dominated. He led the league in interceptions (7) and graded out as the second-best defender on the team, according to Pro Football Focus. He earned the team’s highest PFF coverage grade. Put simply, he had a coming-out party.
So what do the Falcons do with Kazee going forward? He’s under team control for two more seasons, and the Falcons need to get their money’s worth. Assuming Ricardo Allen is healthy enough to reclaim his starter role, the Falcons can’t justify parking Kazee on the bench. Head coach Dan Quinn addressed this predicament at the NFL’s spring meetings last month.
“He really has ball-hawk principles to him. He has a relentless side that’s fearless in a way as well. We’re going to try to move him closer to the ball. He played corner in college and when he came here we moved him to safety. He really proved his worth to say, ‘I need a bigger role.’”
Basically Kazee is forcing their hand. They have to keep him on the field. It’s time for the coaching staff to roll up their sleeves and get creative. Quinn is acutely aware of that reality.
“We’re going to try to give him a chance to compete for some things at nickel. Obviously he has a ton of free safety experience in two years with us. We’re also going to work him some at nickel. He had begun a little bit of that last year prior to Rico being injured. As we’re moving forward we’re going to go back to that plan, to give him some ops at nickel.”
Given Robert Alford’s departure and the team’s commitment to Isaiah Oliver as a starter, the road to the nickel job is wide open for Kazee. His talent is undeniable, but can the coaching staff put it to good use? That’s the challenge going forward. And for what Quinn’s comments are worth, the Falcons seem committed to the cause.