Key & Diagnose
There are a few things that I look for when trying to identify breakout fantasy players. Youth, talent and an increased role. Second year players with high draft capital usually experience an increase in playing time and production. These players have had a year to adjust to the NFL, and their teams feel more confident playing them in major roles. A player that fits this model is Atlanta Falcons Safety Richie Grant.
The Atlanta Falcons drafted Safety Richie Grant in the 2nd round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Falcons had a need for playmakers in the secondary after they finished dead last in passing yards allowed during the previous season. Grant was a solid prospect coming out of college. He recorded 290 total tackles, 10 interceptions and 17 passes defended in his four seasons at the University of Central Florida. His accolades included being a 3x 1st team All American in the Athletic Conference. He also was a Jim Thorpe finalist and Bednarik Award semifinalist in his senior season.
Richie Grant wasn’t used in a meaningful role in his rookie season. The Falcons primarily played him on Special Teams packages. According to the team, this was part of their plan for the rookies. The team by and large preferred that the rookies learn from veteran players in front of them, while gaining experience on Special Teams. In fact, Grant led all Falcons players in Special Teams snaps with 320 on the season.
Grant played behind veteran Safeties Duron Harmon and Erik Harris in his first season. With the team prioritizing veterans over rookies, Grant only played on 25% of the team’s defensive snaps. The Falcons found a role for him at slot CB after Isiaiah Oliver was lost to a knee injury early in the season. Still it wasn’t much of a role for him to be relevant for fantasy purposes. Grant only had one game where he eclipsed 50% of snaps. His highest tackle output was only 6 combined tackles which he accomplished twice during the season. Grant finished the season with 35 combined tackles, 2 passes defensed with 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
During an off-season interview, Grant admitted that he struggled grasping defensive assignments early in the season. He advised that he became a much better player by the end of the season. It’s notable that the Falcons also were in the playoff hunt for much of the season. The team likely didn’t feel that they could be competitive while playing a rookie who was still learning the defense.
Grant will enter next season with much higher expectations. He’ll be expected to take on a larger role now that he has a better grasp of the defense. Opportunity shouldn’t be an issue with veterans Harmon and Harris both set to be unrestricted free agents. I wouldn’t expect Harmon and Harris to be brought back, unless they accept veteran minimum deals and a reserve role. The Falcons are $7 million over the salary cap going into free agency. The team has already stated that they will prioritize developing younger players this off-season. This should include Grant and fellow Safety Jaylinn Hawkins. Hawkins, who will be entering his 3rd year, started at Free Safety last season after Erik Harris was lost to injury.
Presumably Grant will start at Strong Safety while Hawkins will continue to start at Free Safety next season. However, Grant could also be used in a “Big Nickel” role covering slot WRs depending on if the team re-signs slot CB Isaiah Oliver. The “Big Nickel” role is a hybrid Linebacker/Safety role teams use to defend against 3 WR sets. Grant appears to be versatile enough to handle this role.
It’s notable that Grant played a majority of his snaps in the “Big Nickel” role during his rookie season. It’s also worth mentioning Safeties such as Tyrann Mathieu, Budda Baker and Logan Ryan became IDP stars playing in this role. Baker and Ryan have posted 100 tackle seasons, demonstrating how valuable the role can be for IDP purposes. Grant could be a major splash for IDP managers next season. He’s likely to be available late in redraft leagues. Don’t sleep on Richie Grant in your IDP Fantasy Drafts!
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