May 26, 2024

Starting the season with a strong defense on paper is one thing, but sustaining a solid defensive performance throughout the demanding NFL season despite injuries and offensive setbacks is another challenge altogether. The Atlanta Falcons’ defense currently holds the 10th position in expected points added per play and is ranked fourth in success rate. This defensive prowess has been crucial in supporting an offense grappling with questionable play calling and quarterback performance, making the possibility of a playoff run a reality. Much of this success can be attributed to Atlanta’s part-time players and their “next-man-up” mentality, with safety DeMarcco Hellams epitomizing this ethos.

DeMarcco Hellams - Football - University of Alabama Athletics

Hellams, a seventh-round rookie, initially served as a depth player for Atlanta, averaging around a dozen snaps per game in the first half of the season. However, since Week 12, he has started two out of four games and proven to be one of the standout performers on a defense that has allowed an average of only 15.25 points per game since the bye week. Defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen expressed no surprise at the rookie’s development, citing Hellams’ exceptional football intelligence, awareness on the field, and ability to anticipate plays. Despite being a part-time player, Hellams has shown remarkable dedication to learning the defense and staying patient for his opportunity. Nielsen emphasized Hellams’ growth, stating that he observed, learned, and, when the chance came, made impactful plays on the field.

Although Hellams has yet to force a turnover, his on-field presence is undeniable, accumulating 27 tackles and a quarterback hit in his limited playing time. With incumbent safety Richie Grant seeing minimal action in Week 15, fans can expect to see more of Hellams in upcoming games. Hellams’ journey mirrors that of linebacker Nate Landman, who also broke out in his second season after joining as an undrafted free agent. Nielsen drew parallels between the two players, highlighting their similar paths of continuous hard work and dedication to learning the defense.

Hellams’ encouraging performances in limited appearances prompted Nielsen to give him more playing time, and the rookie has delivered consistently. Notably, he has not missed a tackle since Week 7 and continues to improve week by week. Amidst the frustrations of the season, discovering additional building blocks for the future provides some solace. Nielsen expressed confidence in the depth of the team, acknowledging that unforeseen circumstances led to opportunities for players like Hellams and Landman to shine.

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