Dean Pees is going to be multiple in his defensive schemes, along the line of scrimmage and on the back end. Shifting from a 4-3 front to a 3-4 alignment will depend on personnel and matchups. The coverage on the backend is no different. Obviously, that’s where the cornerback position is quite important.
Pees will deploy cover-0, cover-1, every variation of cover-2 (man-under, zone-under, inverted, etc), cover-3, press-man, and off-man coverages if the situation calls for it. The point is, the Falcons defense is going to be multiple in everything they do this year — always based on the players he has.
Former head coach Dan Quinn was committed — to a fault — to a 4-3 under defense. Under him, the team regularly trotted out the same coverages behind the same basic fronts. To succeed, that requires a specific set of skills that Atlanta just didn’t have.
Pees will mesh his scheme to the skillsets of his players, but the cornerbacks under contract are still uninspiring. Isaiah Oliver has shown his value lies in a nickel role — usually tasked with run support more so than boundary corners due to their proximity to the line of scrimmage. Playing in the slot allows for Oliver to pressure more and blitz off the edge. That is exactly what Dean Pees’ expects out of his nickel corner/safety. Kendall Sheffield has shown little to believe he can be more than a depth player for Pees, which leaves a massive vacancy opposite of AJ Terrell.
Going off the signings Terry Fontenot has already made of Erik Harris and Brandon Copeland, Falcons fans shouldn’t expect any “splash” signings — even if they are fun to envision. Bringing in a veteran cornerback through free agency is paramount, though. There are plenty of bargains left on the market that could fill this void on the Falcons roster.
Veteran Cornerback Options
All contract projections are from PFF
Gareon Conley — 1 yr/ $2.5 million
Bashaud Breeland — 2 yr/ $5 million (APY)
K’Waun Williams — 2 yr/ $4 million (APY)
Rasul Douglas — 1 yr/ $2.25 million
None of these names are going to make Falcons fans jump out of their seats. Neither did the Harris or Copeland signings. Conley thrives in man-coverage, but struggles dramatically in zone-coverage — something Pees would have to cater to. According to PFF, he’s graded in the 69th percentile in single coverage compared to just the 37th percentile in zone since entering the league.
Breeland is much more experienced and could better serve as a mentor to Terrell than Conley. According to PFF, Breeland had just three games with a coverage grade above 80.0 this past season. He also grades of 32.2, 43.1, and two games in the 50s — a complete rollercoaster of results. Douglas would likely be more of a platoon cornerback who would be used on a need-by basis. Williams is a slot cornerback and is one of the league’s most consistent. In six seasons, Williams doesn’t have an overall PFF grade below 66.2.
Everyone can poke holes in these options, but the price range afforded to Fontenot limits the talent he can bring to Atlanta. Expect a veteran cornerback to be brought in on a cheap one-year deal, just as Harris and Copeland were.