The Falcons’ defense last year wasn’t imposing in any aspect, but some individuals really thrived. AJ Terrell, in particular, solidified himself among the game’s best cover men. He was named to his first All-Pro team and left a trail of elite receivers in his wake. The sky is the limit for the Clemson product, but many fans don’t realize how vital the corner opposite of him can be.
A year ago, the Falcons boasted a secondary with Fabian Moreau across from Terrell. Falcons fans disregarded all the good Moreau did in Atlanta based on a few bad games. All in all, he was a decent CB2 for Dean Pees. Despite being targeted at an unproportionate rate and the pass rush giving opposing quarterbacks all day to pick Atlanta’s secondary apart, Moreau was someone I figured the regime would be interested in re-signing.
However, the Falcons chose to upgrade the position instead. Casey Hayward signed a two-year, $11 million contract with Atlanta early in the offseason, and it might be one of the most underrated free agent signings in the league. He will not be the same player in 2022 as when he was an All-Pro in 2016 and 2017, but Hayward still has plenty left in the tank.
After starting his career with the Packers, Hayward signed with the Chargers, where he thrived for five seasons before joining the rival Raiders on a one-year deal that he vastly over-performed.
Hayward started all 17 regular-season games a season ago, logged 46 tackles, broke up nine passes and had an interception. His coverage stats were excellent for a player of any age, allowing completions on just 57.1% of his 56 targets, and opposing quarterbacks cumulatively had a 91.9 passer rating when targeting him in 2021. The Falcons got a reliable veteran that can play man and zone coverage.
He might not be the high-profile signing some Falcons fans were hoping for, but I promise you all that he will make a fan out of every one of you. He’s the quintessential professional and is an incredibly underrated acquisition, but it might not be quite so understated when the season commences. Pro Football Focus is already ahead of the curve.
— PFF (@PFF) June 6, 2022
Photographer: Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire