Sure there are plenty of candidates to replace DeCoud: Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills), Chris Clemons (Miami Dolphins) and Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans Saints) all come to mind as they are the current clubhouse leaders, according to most reports.
But there's no guarantee the Falcons will attract any of these players on the open market as there will be a plethora of teams vying for their services—some with much stronger ties.
The free safety position in the Falcons defense requires a player that brings the thunder upon impact, has exceptional ball skills and also possesses the ability to create plays as opposed to merely being in the right position.
Atlanta already has the perfect candidate to fill that role and should look no further than DeCoud's current counterpart, strong safety William Moore.
Now I know what the majority of you are thinking: Why would the Falcons convert one of the best strong safeties in the NFL to a position he's not suited to play?
Simply put, because it opens up the potential candidates the Falcons could look at in the draft and via free agency.
If the Falcons are unable to lure one of the aforementioned players, could you imagine if they were able to sign a player like the ferocious T.J. Ward (Cleveland Browns) to man the strong safety spot with Moore sliding over to the free (yikes)?
What about if Donte Whitner (San Francisco 49ers) were brought in at the strong safety position? Receivers would be making up excuses—and fake illnesses—to not go across the middle.
Suppose the Falcons drafted physical safeties Craig Loston (LSU) or Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama)?
Any of those combinations would dramatically change the physicality, and plight, of the Falcons secondary. And that's exactly what the team needs as a whole—toughness.
And returning Moore to his natural position would be the first step in that process.
Once upon a time Moore was a second-team All-American free safety at the University of Missouri. While he's always been known for separating receivers from their collective souls, he was equally lauded for his superb ball-skills.
"I played nickel and rover mostly and then dropped back to free [safety]," Moore told me. "I was a free safety, my junior season, when I had those eight picks."
His 115-tackle, eight-interception, two-sack performance showed that he was the premier safety in the collegiate ranks—following the conclusion of his junior year. But an injury-plagued senior season took a surefire first-round pick and dropped him down to the second round (55th overall).
Many scouts were concerned that he might eventually get too big to play safety in the pros, and some even considered it a possibility that he'd be converted to an outside linebacker in a zone-based scheme.
Those concerns were put to bed when the Falcons paired him up with the second-year DeCoud in former coordinator Brian VanGorder's vanilla, two-deep zone scheme. After a rookie year that was predominately lost to a severe hamstring injury, Moore returned his second season and earned his keep with a 72-tackle, five-interception (eight pass defenses) performance.
He also chipped in with five tackles at, or behind, the line of scrimmage—further proving his versatility.
This versatility was truly displayed, though, when current coordinator Mike Nolan arrived with his aggressive, scheme-diverse philosophy in the 2012-13 season.
Nolan's scheme differs from most as the safeties are organically interchangeable.
"We have game-specific plans based off the tendencies of the opponent," Moore conveyed. "If a team has a dominate tight end our assignments [the safeties] may be totally different opposed to a team that runs a three-receiver set."
Here we see Moore playing essentially a Cover 1 safety. Moore gets to show off both his instincts and range at the single-high safety. You often see the Seattle Seahawks using Earl Thomas, the very best free safety in the league, in this role.
DeCoud is playing the strong safety, where his role will be to defend the tight end (Y). As you can see, this is the epitome of interchangeable. Having a free safety like Moore patrolling the middle of the field is extremely effective when he's forced to assist in the run game
This is an aspect that DeCoud struggled with on a consistent basis.
DeCoud takes the worst possible angle and the Falcons pay for it in terms of an explosive run.
DeCoud is the perfect safety for a two-deep scheme like the Falcons used to run. But in Nolan's, scheme his duties increased exponentially. He was asked to fill run lanes, cover slot receivers and tight ends alike in addition to being deployed in the manufactured pressure schemes.
Those roles are what made Moore the best safety in college. And that's a fact that's not lost on him presently.
"I kind of fed into the whole in-the-box safety title," Moore intimated. "It led me away from the type of player I used to be. Now I'm working on my [back] pedal and my man coverage skills. I'm ready to go."
Moore received a crash course last season as the scheme called for the safeties to be interchangeable.
Here, Moore was at his normal strong safety spot to the closed side of the formation. His assignment was to track the tight end.
As the tight end went in motion, Moore passed off his duties to DeCoud. As a person who played the strong safety position, my scheme always had me positioned on the closed side of the formation. Meaning, I was always on the side of the tight end, no matter what. The Falcons scheme operates to the contrary.
This meant that DeCoud was now the strong safety with Moore playing the free safety. It doesn't get any more interchangeable than that, folks. If the Falcons didn't feel as though Moore still had the talent to play free safety, they would never leave him alone to play center fielder.
It can be argued that Moore played the free safety position better than DeCoud, in most instances, last season. Moore's a better athlete—with keener instincts—who's an overall better football player.
Here we see what would make Moore an ideal free safety. The Falcons are in a Cover 4 shell with both Moore and DeCoud playing a quarter of the field.
Moore is a student of the game. He understands each player's role on the defense and has excellent knowledge of what the opponent is trying to accomplish—on a snap-by-snap basis.
He has great vision and is very decisive. Although the quarterback was looking him off, he remained patient and waited for the delivery of the ball.
Not only does Moore have the range to play free safety, he has the hands to be a difference-maker. Many defensive backs can do everything right and still can't force a turnover.
The Falcons need a free safety that has the ability to set the tone with physical play, force turnovers and play multiple roles. By sliding Moore over to the position, the Falcons would open themselves up to any safety on the market, as opposed to looking at free safeties only.
If the Falcons were to land Ward, the combination would be reminiscent of what the 49ers had with Whitner and Dashon Goldson—as both are two of the hardest hitters in the league. It would also be similar to what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have with Goldson and fellow bone-crusher Mark Barron.
And here's a little-known fact: Moore only has one less interception (14) than Goldson (15), despite playing in 36 less games—and being a strong safety. Imagine how many turnovers he would force being able to play free safety?
It's time for the Falcons to strike fear in the hearts of pass-catchers. Possessing two physical safeties would be a major step in the right direction.
Rise up, Atlanta.
All quotes were obtained firsthand.
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