The Falcons don’t have the most imposing roster; in fact, the team could use an influx of talent across the board. Atlanta’s offensive line is one of the worst in the league in pass sets, the pass rush has been nonexistent for the better part of the last decade, the safety unit is incredibly unproven, and the receiving core could use another playmaker. However, there is one unit that is among the league’s best — cornerback.
A.J. Terrell enjoyed quite the breakout campaign in 2021 and was predictably rewarded with All-Pro honors, even if he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl. After an intriguing rookie season, the former Clemson Tiger came out last year and shut down everyone he lined up across.
The trail of receivers Terrell has left in his wake is quite impressive — holding Deebo Samuel, Jaylen Waddle, and Corey Davis to 0 yards in their respective matchups. Moreover, he only surrendered 19 yards to Michael Gallup and 24 yards to Stefon Diggs.
Terrell is well on his way to being regarded as one of the league’s premier cover men, in the conversation with guys like Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander, and Darius Slay. However, the Falcons trusted Fabian Moreau opposite him for much of the 2021 season. And even though he was fine, quarterbacks targeted him at an obscene rate due to Terrell’s dominance.
Terry Fontenot decided to fix that by signing Casey Hayward to a two-year, $11 million contract. He is coming off a season where he started all 17 games for the Raiders and drastically outperformed his contract. Hayward logged 46 tackles, broke up nine passes and had an interception while allowing completions on just 57.1% of his 56 targets. Opposing quarterbacks cumulatively had a 91.9 passer rating when targeting him in 2021.
The Falcons have two high-level corners, and the veteran presence of Hayward will only make his counterpart better. However, the former Green Bay Packer might think Terrell is already better than him. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a running mate on the other side as talented as AJ,” Hayward said.
A two-time Pro Bowler with a decade-long career told members of the media that he watched Terrell’s film. Hayward’s words carry weight; he’s played with some good corners in this league. “Pretty good guys, don’t get me wrong,” Hayward said of his former teammates, “but not as talented as AJ.”
Want more proof? According to Seth Walder, Terrell and Hayward ranked first and second in yards allowed per coverage snap last season. The Falcons’ secondary is in good hands. The tandem has the potential to be one of the best duos in football this season.
Photographer: David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire