This is the ninth of a ten-part series reviewing the Falcons’ season and discussing the future outlook position-by-position. If you missed any other installments, be sure to check them out.
The Falcons’ cornerback unit boasts the biggest surprise of the 2021 season—A.J. Terrell’s breakout campaign. The former Clemson Tiger established himself as one of the league’s best corners, even if he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl despite making the All-Pro team. He finished with a PFF grade of 82.7 overall and 85.6 in coverage, surpassed only by Jalen Ramsey in either category.
Many believed that Atlanta’s selection of Terrell was a bit of a reach; pundits pointed to Terrell’s lackluster performance against Ja’Marr Chase in the 2019 National Championship game. In hindsight, Terrell played well when you consider that Chase is cooking cornerbacks all around the league as a rookie. In 2021, Terrell tallied three interceptions, 16 pass deflections, 81 tackles, and three tackles for loss. Plus, he only gave up catches on 43.9% of targets. Terrell will be a pillar of this defense going forward, but for the rest of the cornerbacks, things are bleak.
Fabian Moreau started a majority of snaps opposite Terrell, finishing with 11 pass deflections, 61 tackles, three tackles for loss, and allowed completions on 65.8% of targets. In the opinion of many fans, Moreau performed horribly in 2021. However, I do not share that belief.
Moreau signed a one-year deal worth just over $1 million; I believe he played acceptably well for that price. The Falcons weren’t paying him $10 million a year, so fans should temper their expectations. The value of the signing was actually decent; I’d also be open to the idea of bringing Moreau back, even if Terry Fontenot brings in another corner to start opposite Terrell via the draft or free agency.
Darren Hall didn’t play particularly well in 14 games this season, but he’s a rookie. Falcons fans can’t expect a rookie to come in and play nickel—arguably the most challenging position in Dean Pees’ defense—and succeed. Hall has a lot to work on, but the flashes of excellence he showed should encourage fans to be patient.
The defense really took a turn for the worse when Isaiah Oliver went down with a season-ending injury after just four games. Oliver had three pass deflections, 11 tackles, and allowed catches on 60% of targets in those four games. Though he’s an unrestricted free agent, I expect the Falcons to make a push to bring him back.
Oliver was objectively playing good ball (maybe the best of his career) in Pees’ scheme, so I would imagine the Falcons re-sign him to a one-year, prove-it deal. Atlanta could end up bringing back most of their cornerback unit, and with improvements in the trenches, the group should perform even better in 2022.
Even if the Falcons select someone like Derek Stingley Jr., Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Andrew Booth Jr., Roger McCreary, or any other corner prospect in this loaded draft class, they should bring back Oliver and Moreau. The former knows what the coaching staff wants out of their nickel corner, and the latter provided critical leadership for a young 2021 cornerback room. Adding a high-end starter opposite Terrell would be the long-term play, but bringing back proven guys would yield immediate improvements.