NFL

The Atlanta Falcons Just Lost Their $2 Million Rising Star

The losses keep piling up for the Atlanta Falcons. And unfortunately for Dan Quinn, that means more than just coming up short on the scoreboard. Already dealing with injuries to key starters, the Falcons suffered another brutal blow on Monday Night Football. With Damontae Kazee done for the year, Atlanta just lost a rising star and simultaneously inched closer to landing the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Damontae Kazee is a rising star in Atlanta

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A product of San Diego State, Damontae Kazee got selected 149th overall in the 2017 NFL draft. A cornerback by trade, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder got moved to free safety during his rookie season. Ultimately, the move paid off.

Though he did not enter the year as a starter, Kazee took over starting strong safety duties in just his second NFL season. Of course, that occurred after Keanu Neal tore his ACL in the Falcons’ season-opener.

Despite his inexperience, Kazee responded with a sensational season. The Florida native recorded 82 total tackles and tied for the league-lead with seven interceptions. He also chipped in 10 passes defended and forced one fumble during his breakout campaign.

Last year, Kazee moved to free safety and started 14 of 16 games. The former fifth-round pick snagged three interceptions and totaled 74 tackles for an Atlanta defense that performed well down the stretch.

Kazee entered the 2020 season as one of the Falcons’ most important defensive players. Unfortunately for the 27-year-old defensive back, he experienced a major setback in his contract year.

Falcons lose Kazee to a season-ending injury

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Let’s just say the 2020 season has been a painful one for Falcons fans. After falling to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, Atlanta proceeded to blow huge fourth-quarter leads in consecutive weeks.

In addition, the team lost first-round pick A.J. Terrell to the COVID-19/reserve list after the rookie tested positive for the coronavirus. A number of other key players, including Darqueze Dennard, Julio Jones, and Younghoe Koo, have dealt with injuries during the first quarter of the season.

However, the Falcons suffered their most brutal blow on Monday when Damontae Kazee went down with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. On Tuesday, Falcons fans’ worst fears came true. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported via Twitter that the fourth-year safety suffered a torn Achilles that will end his season.

To add insult to injury, the timing couldn’t have been worse for Kazee. Scheduled to make about $2.1 million in the final year of his rookie contract, the former fifth-round pick will become a free agent this offseason. However, instead of hitting the market coming off a third consecutive year of high-level production, Kazee may have to settle for a one-year, prove-it deal after sustaining such a significant injury.

The Falcons look like a favorite to pick first in the 2021 NFL draft

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Losing Damontae Kazee for the rest of the year represents yet another setback for a team that appears well on its way to landing a high pick in the 2021 NFL draft. At this point, the Falcons’ season appears to be over just a quarter of the way in.

Currently sitting at 0-4, Atlanta has dug itself in a deep hole that looks insurmountable. An offense loaded with first-round picks has averaged 26.5 points per game, which ranks 14th in the NFL. Still, Matt Ryan has thrown just seven touchdown passes—none of which have been to Julio Jones.

The real problem boils down to Dan Quinn’s defense. Last season, the Falcons ranked 23rd in points allowed, mostly due to a strong four-game finish. This year, though, Atlanta has failed to rediscover that late-season magic.

A unit ravaged by injuries has allowed 34.5 points per game. Only the Dallas Cowboys have been worse in that regard.

In particular, the secondary has been shredded by opposing quarterbacks. Only the Seahawks have allowed more passing yards per game than the Falcons. In fact, Atlanta ranks 31st in total yards allowed. Quinn’s defense has recorded just seven sacks and two interceptions in four games.

Given their health problems, don’t expect the Falcons to make a turnaround. Rather, the losses will continue to pile up for a team that can’t stay healthy. Even in a league where the New York Jets and Houston Texans look completely incompetent, don’t be surprised if the Falcons ultimately earn the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

All contract information courtesy of Spotrac. All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.