Hot take alert: the Atlanta Falcons secondary has a chance to finish as the best secondary in the NFL. Many might double-take while reading that, but the secondary is one of the strongest units on this team. Why do I think this team has a chance to finish that well?
Atlanta’s top cornerback returns after shoulder surgery since being sidelined with that injury in Week 9 of 2016. The star corner helped lead the defense to where they were at the time, 5-3, after playing one of the toughest opening schedules in the league. Trufant played like a star, and the numbers will not look astonishing, but that is what top cornerbacks do. Their names are quiet throughout because opposing quarterbacks do not feel comfortable throwing to their side of the field. Taking on top receivers,Trufant has excelled and has put himself in the conversation as one of the top cornerbacks of the league.
Opposite of Trufant is his 2013 fellow draft class companion, Robert Alford. Alford has been criticized by many for having too many penalties, but actually that’s just his aggressive nature in locking up opposing receivers. When Trufant went down, all the pressure went to Alford, as many were eager to see if he had the skillset to play the top cornerback position for the Falcons.
Sure, Alford had his struggles at times, but there is no cornerback in the league that excels in every matchup versus the opponent’s best receiver. We saw in the 2016 postseason how special Alford could be as a player, and we all remember the pick-6 in one of those big games. If Trufant and Alford can stay healthy all season, they could challenge Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. as the top cornerback duo in the NFL.
Behind those two on the depth chart are Brian Poole, C.J. Goodwin, Deji Olatoye, and possibly Damontae Kazee if needed. Jalen Collins is still there for the time-being, but he has a ten-game suspension to serve for failing his second PED test. All of those cornerbacks are very solid depth, and Kazee could fight for playing time as he has played very well throughout his short stint so far as a Falcon.
But it does not stop at the corner back position. Two guys that also get me very excited are the two safeties: Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen. Keanu Neal, the 17th overall selection in the 2016 Draft, played like a Pro-Bowler his first season in Atlanta. The man goes into some sort of killer-mentality mode when he enters the field, just ask Willie Snead. Snead might still be on the ground after Neal obliterated him in the last game of the 2016 regular season.
— Michael Cameron (@michaelcameron_) April 28, 2017
Neal struggled at first in coverage, but progressed that part of his game in a very obvious way. Early in the season against the Panthers, tight end Greg Olsen abused Neal. Neal worked on his craft and technique, and began to limit opposing receivers and tight ends ability to get open. With the way Neal played in his first year, there are high expectations on him in this upcoming season, but deservedly so.
Flying around at free safety next to Neal is Ricardo Allen, who might be the most underrated player on the reigning NFC Champions. Many people try to knock on Allen, but he grew into a huge role last season and played phenomenal football throughout. Allen very rarely missed tackles, he limited deep ball oppotunities to opposing quarterbacks, and would line his teammates in the right direction when he could see where the ball was going to go. Allen’s football IQ could be one of the highest on the team. He also made very timely plays, as he had to go one-on-one in the open field against opposing receivers or tight ends to stop them from reaching the first-down marker. Dan Quinn will look a lot to Ricardo Allen to not only hold the backside of the field for the defense, but also to set his teammates in the right position in order for them to succeed.
The starting base defense in the secondary with Trufant, Alford, Neal, and Allen is one many teams wish they had. The nickel defense with those four and Brian Poole at the nickel corner is unbelievably talented with youth and experience. With the Falcons upgrading their pass rush, opposing quarterbacks will likely release the ball quicker out of their hands to avoid the pressure. That’s where this secondary can be aggressive and try to make plays, rather then covering receivers all day. This unit has all the talent in the world and the right mindset. The question is can they put it all together and become a top secondary in the league? If you ask me, I believe they do.