Falcons’ A.J. Terrell makes ESPN’s top 10 CB list voted on by execs, coaches, scouts

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The Falcons‘ defense should take a massive step forward in 2023. There were notable additions at all three levels; David Onyemata and Calais Campbell bolster the front, Kaden Elliss joins the second level, and Jessie Bates III solidifies the backend. However, the group wasn’t completely barren of talent. Grady Jarrett is among the best interior defenders in football, and A.J. Terrell is an All-Pro cornerback, which was reflected in Jeremy Fowler of ESPN’s latest rankings. 

The rankings are based on coaches, execs, and scouts voting their ten best players at a position.

Below is a full list, along with honorable mentions and those who just received votes.

  1. Pat Surtain II
  2. Sauce Gardner
  3. Jalen Ramsey
  4. Jaire Alexander
  5. Darius Slay
  6. Marlon Humphrey
  7. Marshon Lattimore
  8. Trevon Diggs
  9. Denzel Ward
  10. A.J. Terrell

Honorable mentions: Xavien Howard, Jaycee Horn, Tariq Woolen, Tre’Davious White, L’Jarius Sneed

Also receiving votes: Stephon Gilmore, James Bradberry, J.C. Jackson, Carlton Davis III, Trent McDuffie, Charvarius Ward, D.J. Reed, Tyson Campbell

Here’s the breakdown of A.J. Terrell:

Highest ranking: 2 | Lowest ranking: Unranked
Age: 24 | Last year’s ranking: 9

Many evaluators agree Terrell is a major talent who will one day be in the top five. That didn’t happen in this year’s survey, with a small dip in the rankings despite his posting 32 pass breakups since entering the league in 2020.

“Very well-rounded,” an NFL personnel man said. “Just a really good player who checks all the boxes. Can play press-man or zone, good feet, smooth.”

Terrell’s coverage stats were not good last year. On 72 targets as the nearest defender, he allowed 41 receptions for 521 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. But the lack of a steady Falcons pass rush last year left corners in tough spots. And Terrell improved as the year progressed as he was asked to cover in man or zone.

There are many interesting facets of this, so let’s dig in.

Firstly, cornerback play, for the most part, fluctuates so much that these rankings could be obsolete by Week 9. I say that because we saw Terrell put up one of the best seasons we’ve ever seen from a corner in 2021, then followed it up with a lesser 2022 campaign, prompting some to say that All-Pro performance was an aberration. It was so impressive that regression was inevitable, but he didn’t regress extremely.

Secondly, to further my first point, someone didn’t rank him in the top 10 at all while another voter made him the second-highest-rated corner. There are so many talented players at the position, and their play varies more than any other position; it’s not uncommon to have very different viewpoints on who is the best.

Thirdly, outside of pass catchers, cover men rely heavily on the players around them. The breakdown states, “On 72 targets as the nearest defender…” and is misleading. For example, in a simple Cover 2 scheme, Terrell is responsible for the flats and about 10-15 yards down the field, depending on the specifics, while the safety is responsible for the deep half. If a route concept, like a corner or deep out, splits those two and Terrell is just the closest defender while the safety — Richie Grant — is out of position, it’s the corner’s fault. That doesn’t tell the entire story.

To that point, Terrell’s supporting cast is far better this year than ever before. Jessie Bates will help tremendously, but the pass rush will have the biggest impact on A.J. Terrell’s overall impact. Expect another All-Pro caliber campaign from the former first-rounder.

Photographer: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire

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