It is often said that the outcome of football games can be decided by one simple statistic. Without even looking at the score, it can be easy to see which team wins a game based off of one statistic. That ever-important statistic: turnovers. Offensively, having players who emphasize taking care of the ball is a vital component to any successful team. Defensively, however, finding players who can create turnovers and shift the momentum of games is key to winning games and taking pressure off of the team’s own offense. Some defensive players look to make a career out of doing just that, and Atlanta Falcons safety Damontae Kazee is looking to be one of those players.
Damontae Kazee was a standout defender out of Cajon High School in San Bernardino, California. After accepting a scholarship to play for the Aztecs at San Diego State, he chose not to redshirt but instead participate on special teams and play in a reserve defensive role. After carrying out those duties as a freshman, Kazee stepped into a deeper role in an Aztec defense that tried to create turnovers and force early 3-and-outs to allow their run-heavy offense to manage the clock and control the game. After intercepting a pass and forcing three fumbles in his freshman season, Kazee proved he had a knack for creating turnovers. Despite only intercepting one pass and recovering a fumble, Kazee knocked down 12 passes his sophomore year and helped anchor down a very stout defensive unit. In Kazee’s next two seasons, he would exhibit to the college football world exactly what type of menace he could be in the defensive secondary.
As San Diego State began piecing together successful seasons, the root of the team success was a potent running game and a dominant defense. In 2015 and 2016, Damontae Kazee was the spearhead of that defensive success. The turnover machine intercepted eight passes, returning one for a touchdown and also added on two forced fumbles. His stellar play that year led to him being named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. Deciding to stay for his senior season, Kazee again wreaked havoc for the Aztecs in 2016. Intercepting seven passes, returning one for a touchdown and registering eight pass deflections once again led to another DPOY award in 2016. Winning the award for the second time in his career allowed Kazee to join the ranks of some of the most legendary Mountain West Conference defenders. Former MWC residents Utah and TCU are the only other schools in Mountain West history to boast back-to-back DPOY’s, with the Utes Eric Weddle accomplishing the feat first, followed by the Horned Frogs Jerry Hughes and Tank Carder.
Kazee would be drafted the following year by the Atlanta Falcons in the 5th round, slightly lower than most experts had him going. His downside was due to very average combine numbers; not a true speedster on the outside, not particularly tall given the wide receiver matchups in the NFL, and a vertical that caused some to question his ability against the pass. His upside is his playmaking ability, something he has showcased throughout his football career. Through the first five games of the 2018 NFL season, Kazee already has two interceptions and a fumble recovery for the Falcons. After spending much of his rookie season in 2017 in a special teams role, he is beginning to force the hand of the Falcon’s coaching staff when it comes to his snap count on defense. As Kazee continues to make momentum-shifting plays, look for him to establish a more significant role on defense and prove to the entire league that his production on Saturdays will translate into production on Sundays.