When the Falcons selected A.J. Terrell 16th overall, the critics of Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff were screaming from the rooftops. “Once again, the Falcons reached for a need,” they said. “This guy was embarrassed in the National Championship,” fans howled. “Fire everybody,” others echoed. But as we found out after the draft, there was no way Terrell was making it out of the first round, and the Falcons selected their guy at their most significant position of need without having to give up any draft capital. And while critics will point to the LSU game and shake their head, new defensive coordinator, Raheem Morris, saw exactly what he needed to see — a competitor.
Sure, LSU beat Clemson handily, and Ja’Marr Chase — who was undoubtedly the best receiver in college football last year and would have been a top 10 pick in the draft if he were eligible — had his way with Terrell. However, the tape shows it wasn’t as much of a mismatch as the box score suggests.
For example, let’s look at this first touchdown catch. Terrell is matched up with Ja’Marr Chase one-on-one on the outside, staying with him stride for stride until Chase gets away with a subtle push off, creating a yard of space before the ball arrives.
Ja’Marr Chase with the subtle push off to create late separation – advanced, veteran move from the sophomore pic.twitter.com/lNMlpubdiU
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 14, 2020
That’s a penalty more times than not, and outside of that, this is fantastic coverage. And here’s Chase’s second touchdown of the game. Once again, Terrell is matched up with him one-on-one on the outside, staying with him stride for stride. Joe Burrow just delivers a dime to the corner of the endzone. There is absolutely nothing any defensive back in college football can do about this.
Clemson asked a lot from Terrell the entire game, and they had to. Because if they didn’t bring pressure on nearly every down, Joe Burrow was going to eat them alive. It was a classic case of pick your poison, and it is telling that Will Venable trusted Terrell to line up across from Ja’Marr Chase without any help for four quarters. And even though there were some blunders, there were also several plays like these, were Terrell stayed with Chase for several seconds before breaking up a perfect ball from Burrow.
So while casuals will look at the box score and a few highlights and immediately cast Terrell as a bust, Morris appreciated the way he never backed down. In a piece by William McFadden of the AtlantaFalcons.com, Morris explained why that game sold him on the Clemson corner.
“The things that people didn’t like about him was his LSU game that he got beat on a couple of times, but that was what made me like him probably the most,” Morris told AtlantaFalcons.com. “In that game, I saw a guy go out there and challenge a guy. Get beat, not be afraid, make a play. Get beat, not be afraid, make a play.”
“That’s kind of our game, that’s kind of the life we live, especially when you live at corner,” Morris said. “People call it an island, but when you have the ability to go out there and play in a big-time game and be competitive that way and not be afraid to lose sometimes, which is going to happen, to be able to come back that next play to really make a play, those are the kind of guys that I love.”
The life of a cornerback is not often a glorious one. Your penalities are the most impactful; you often look silly at least once a game, and your mistakes turn into touchdowns. Getting back up and continuing to fight is a trait every elite corner must possess. That is something Terrell showed against LSU. And outside of that one black eye, his resumé is quite pristine. But it is a what have you done for me lately world we live in, which goes hand-in-hand with the life of a cornerback.
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