This is the eighth installment of a comprehensive positional breakdown for the Falcons following April’s draft. So far, I’ve broken down the quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive and defensive linemen, EDGEs, and linebackers. Today, we move on to one of the thinnest position groups on the Falcons, and one that could become extremely vulnerable with an injury or two — cornerback.
The optimism surrounding AJ Terrell is sky-high, but the rest of the cornerbacks leave something to be desired. Dean Pees runs many different coverages, but there is a clear distinction between the way he uses boundary and slot corners. There are currently seven or eight rostered cornerbacks, depending on how you categorize some of these hybrid players, but the Falcons will likely go into the season with at least five, likely six cornerbacks.
Terrell has all the makings for a high-level corner in this league. It’s incredibly hard for a rookie cornerback to affect games the way he did; sure, Terrell was the victim of some incredible catches up against the best the NFL has to offer, but he was rarely out of position and never lost confidence. He can blitz and support the run just fine, which Pees requires of his corners, but Terrell will primarily be used in coverage on the boundary. I fully expect him to make quite the leap in 2021, and he’s got the ingredients to continually ascend and become a true lockdown corner.
Moreau was drafted by the WFT in the third round of the 2017 draft and signed a one-year, $1.127 million deal this offseason. He’s a physical corner coming to a team that is in desperate need of a running mate with Terrell, and I believe Moreau is just that. In limited snaps the past few years, he has proven to be much more effective on the boundary than in the slot but hasn’t seen the field much because of the WFT’s lack of need at boundary corner. He’s never started more than 10 games in a season, but two years ago in only 158 snaps, Moreau recorded two interceptions and defended three passes.
I pegged Oliver as a breakout candidate this year under the new regime as the team’s third defensive back in nickel (not big nickel with a safety).
Slot or nickel backs are usually tasked with supporting the run more and blitzing more than boundary corners due to their proximity to the ball, which is exactly where Oliver showed life in the latter half of 2020. Versatility is key at every level of a Dean Pees defense: defensive linemen need to be able to line up in multiple techniques, linebackers need to be able to blitz and drop into coverage among normal responsibilities, and defensive backs need to support the run and blitz among normal responsibilities — exactly how Ulbrich described him, a Swiss Army Knife.
In 16 games last year, Oliver recorded 70 tackles, four tackles for loss, six passes defended, one sack, and one forced fumble. The new staff has noticed the improved play as well. Jon Hoke, Falcons’ secondary coach, said he was impressed with Oliver’s production once he made the position switch — speaking on the kind of player he could be.
Atlanta’s fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, Hall has high-upside and could be a two-position starter eventually. He’s the true definition of a ballhawk — in three seasons at San Diego State, Hall recorded six interceptions and an eye-popping 25 pass defended. His rapid diagnosing ability and elite burst give him a high floor, and I believe he could start as a safety because of those excellent instincts and quick feet, where he could play the center fielder to Richie Grants’ star backer.
Much like Oliver, Sheffield has yet to put it all together and had a down 2020. However, it would be wise to be optimistic about the former fourth-round pick ascending to a starting-caliber defensive back because he has all the tools to do so in a new scheme. He played mostly on the boundary last year, but he does have the versatility to play slot as he did his rookie year. Sheffield will have to impress the new regime to earn a second contract, but it’s certainly possible.
If the NFL had the ATH designation like college, that’s where Williams would be. Before his time is done in Atlanta, he could very well be a contributor on all three phases for the Falcons. But the first crack at any playing time this year will be on special teams as the fifth-round pick scored nine times on punts and kicks during his time at Boise State. His career trajectory has been modeled by few, but Jamal Agnew — who played cornerback, wide receiver, and returned punts — showed it was possible in Detroit.
Hall looked lost in limited action last year as he was only active for nine games in 2020, but the reason he got those opportunities was his play during training camp. Going into his second season, I could see the coaching staff keeping Hall around as the seventh cornerback.
Abrams will likely be a practice squad member in 2021, where he was for a majority of the season last year. He was brought up to the 53-man roster for a few games, but that was due to injury at the position. He could potentially push for a similar opportunity this year given his upside because of his great length.
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