If Derek Stingley Jr. is on the board, Falcons have to add to position of strength

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Much has been made about Derek Stingley falling down draft boards in recent months, tying the fall to his disappointing play the last two seasons at LSU. After one of the best collegiate seasons of all time as a freshman, Stingley dealt with a myriad of unfortunate circumstances.

Not only did LSU lose 19 starters from the National Championship team, but racial strife also drove players and Ed Orgeron apart, Bo Pelini ended up being a disastrous hire, the Tigers had their worst defensive season in more than three decades, and former teammates Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Shelvin and Kary Vincent opted out. On top of that, Stingley struggled to stay healthy, which showed on his film.

Once considered a consensus top-five pick, Stingley has had quite the fall from grace, but I’m here to tell you that it’s all a bunch of crap. Stingley is still the best corner prospect and one of the best overall prospects in this class, and the Falcons would be foolish not to select him 8th overall if he falls.

This isn’t a slight at Sauce Gardner either. The Cincinnati product is closer to Stingley than the third-best corner prospect, but he’s not better than Stingley. The former LSU Tiger checks every box — excellent at the line of scrimmage, well-versed in handling every route on the tree, and has the ball skills to contest every pass. If he can realize his potential, Stingely will make multiple All-Pro teams.

We hear much about Stingely’s middling 2020 and 2021 seasons, but let’s discuss the 2019 season. Arriving on campus as the nation’s top-ranked prospect, he was widely regarded as one of the best recruits in LSU history. His father, Derek Stingley Sr., played arena football and had been cultivating his son since he could walk. Before he even played a game in Death Valley, NFL executives said he’d be a first-round pick if he declared for the draft as an 18-year-old.

Shortly after signing his letter of intent in December 2018, Stingley arrived at LSU’s facilities and began practicing with the team before their matchup against UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. Taking reps against Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson, Stingley would’ve been the team’s No. 1 corner in the bowl game had he been eligible — defensive coordinator Dave Aranda told reporters.

By the time the magical 2019 season rolled around, Stingley was inarguably the defense’s top cover man. On the Tigers’ remarkable championship run, opposing offenses completed just 37% of passes for 6.6 yards per attempt when targeting Stingley. Over the course of that season, the two-time All-American would go up against a bevy of future NFL pass catchers — Van Jefferson, Kyle Pitts, DeVonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III, Jerry Jeudy, Jaylen Waddle, Elijah Moore, Treylon Burks, George Pickens, CeeDee Lamb, Tee Higgins, and Justyn Ross. That’s quite impressive, considering Stingley was a true freshman and was by far the best corner in football.

Even more impressive is the fact that Stingely showed his prowess against his peers at LSU as a 17-year-old. When Justin Jefferson took the league by storm as a rookie, I sat back and laughed at the thought of Ja’Marr Chase falling down draft boards last offseason. Chase was better than Jefferson during their time as Tigers, and Stingley was going against them every day in practice, intercepting future Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow, who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl in just his second season. Here are a couple of clips of Stingley matching Chase during that spring:

If Stingely is there when the Falcons are on the clock, I’d be disappointed if they passed on him. There are very few prospects I’d pick over Stingely with the 8th pick, even if it’s adding to a position of strength. Atlanta has holes up and down the roster but not at cornerback. It’s by far the strongest position group on the team, with All-Pro AJ Terrell returning and Casey Hayward signing a two-year deal. However, Terry Fontenot has been adamant about picking the best player available regardless of the position. Adding to a position of strength is something Fontenot has stated the Falcons will absolutely do.

Photographer: John Korduner/Icon Sportswire



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