Falcons: Cornerbacks to watch for in the first round

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With the Falcons somewhat unanticipatedly choosing to move on from Desmond Trufant yesterday, the possibilities for their first-round selection just doubled. Initially, going the pass rusher route seemed like a foregone conclusion, but now cornerback may be even more of a priority, especially if the Falcons decide to bring in some help across the defensive line during free agency, which is expected. Right now, Atlanta’s razor-thin at corner, with two young — but promising — options in Isiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield. However, their limited experience and up-and-down results mean the Falcons will have to bring in a couple of guys this offseason, including one immediate starter. If Thomas Dimitroff does not address the defensive line in round one, it has to be a cornerback.

C.J. Henderson

Picking up a guy like Jeffery Okudah would make everyone forget Desmond Trufant’s name instantly. Unfortunately, Okudah won’t make it out of the top ten, and I don’t expect the Falcons to make a blockbuster move to go after him with so many needs to fill. The next best option in this year’s draft is C.J. Henderson.

The Florida product was already a top prospect after three years in Gainesville, and he only upped himself at The Combine, proving to be the most athletic athlete at his position. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, had a 37.5-inch vert while also putting up 20 reps on the bench press.

His size is tailor-made for Dan Quinn’s liking at 6’1″, 205 pounds with 31.5 inch arms, allowing him to excel in press-man coverage, but he’s also comfortable playing off the ball as well. This past season, he received first-team All-SEC honors after recording 33 tackles and 11 pass breakups. His ball skills and instincts, combined with his speed and overall athleticism, make it difficult for receivers to create space. If there’s a knock on his game, it’s undoubtedly his tackling, but there is hope that he can improve in this area, given his size and strength. This is a pick that would make a lot of sense for the Falcons.

Kristian Fulton

A man from my alma-mater, Fulton is one of the darling children of Pro Football Focus. Since being re-instated at LSU in 2018, he put together back-to-back elite level seasons for the Tigers, proving to be even better than Greedy Williams, who was a projected first-round pick last year that ended up sliding to the second round. Here’s a little excerpt from PFF regarding Fulton:

For his career in SEC play, Fulton’s earned a 92.8 coverage grade and allowed a completion percentage of only 41.3 against.

While PFF may love him, and his completion percentage against is absurd, I’m not totally convinced Fulton is worthy of the first-round grade many are giving him. He may not have been beaten often, but when he was, it typically went for a chunk play. If you go back and look at the tape against Clemson, Fulton was consistently letting receivers get behind him, Trevor Lawrence just could not stop overthrowing them. Several times against Texas, he was beaten for big plays that resulted in touchdowns, allowing the Longhorns to stay in the game much longer than they should have.

Fulton’s Combine workout will do him some favors, though. Like Henderson, he’s a long corner, standing at 6’0″ and weighing around 200 pounds. His arms measure a tad over 30.5 inches, and he ran a more than respectable 4.46. I could see him becoming a starting-caliber cornerback in the NFL, but I’m not sure he is going to be the type of player that steps in day one and is reliable, which is what the Falcons desperately need if they take a corner at this spot.

Trevon Diggs

Long and fluid, you might suspect Diggs has been playing corner all his life. It was wide receiver, much like his more famous brother Stefon, that seemed to be Trevon’s calling. But after year one at Alabama, Diggs was repurposed to play cornerback, and the rest is history.

All of 6’2″ with 32 3/4 inch arms, Diggs plays cornerback the way it’s supposed to be played. Elite ball skills, body control, and excellent feet allow Diggs to use his length to hang on receivers. In both zone and man, Diggs excels winning at the LoS and blanketing men long downfield. Even considering a less than stellar performance against the Bayou Bengals, Diggs still posted a 90.1 PFF coverage grade. Trevon is a play-maker with a knack for man coverage and playing the ball. If his tackling ability mirrored his coverage ability, we might talk about him being a top 10 pick. Unfortunately, it does not, and he’ll have to wait a little longer to hear his name. Trevon struggled mightly tackling and lacks ideal size. Although he has strong hands and long arms, he seems unwilling to tackle. Flip on the tape from any Alabama game and watch Trevon give up 2, 3, 4 yards after initial contact. It’s maddening.

Despite this, Trevon’s length and fluid hips make him a top cornerback prospect. NFL bloodlines and supreme confidence aren’t a bad bonus.

Cameron Dantzler

Dantzler’s Combine performance may have knocked him down some draft boards. The long corner, standing at 6’2″, ran a slow 4.64 40-yard dash, but his performance during his time at Mississippi State was as good as anyone’s on this list.

He only allowed 80 receptions for 459 yards against him over the past two seasons, according to PFF. And against LSU’s superhuman offense last season, he was at his best, limiting Ja’Marr Chase and company to 4 receptions for 13 yards. Dantzler is as stingy as they come and terrific at keeping receivers in front of him, which is a must — because if a receiver is able to blow past him — he doesn’t have the speed to recover. However, that doesn’t affect his confidence, as he loves to play press-man and has the technique to become a starter early in his career.

Another issue for Dantzler heading into the NFL is his tackling. He’s 6’2,” but only 188 pounds, and that shows when he’s forced to come up and make plays in the run game. There’s a lot to like about his game, but he’s probably a bit of a reach with pick #16

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