By the end of this week, the Falcons will have another cornerback on their roster. Atlanta’s taken one in three out four drafts since Dan Quinn arrived, including Isaiah Oliver in the second round last year when it didn’t come across as if the team needed one. Now that Robert Alford and Brian Poole are off to greener pastures, it’s a foregone conclusion corner will be near the top of the Falcons’ draft needs. Dan Quinn even acknowledged it several weeks ago by saying defensive end, cornerback, and strong safety are the areas on the defense that need to be addressed this offseason.
So if the Falcons go off the grid and take a corner in the first round, nobody should be shocked, and there are only three potential options – Byron Murphy, Greedy Williams, and Deandre Baker. Of those, DeAndre Baker and Byron Murphy seem to be the most likely options available when the Falcons select with the 14th pick.
For whatever reason, Baker has seen his stock experience a downward spiral since the draft process began. Some mocks still have him being selected in the top half of the first round, but most have him sliding into the mid-20s or even the second-round. Scouts will point to his poor 40-time of 4.52 at the NFL Combine, but on tape, it’s challenging to find a more consistent prospect at any position.
Baker became a starter and made a name for himself as a Junior at the University of Georgia, helping the Dawgs reach the College Football Playoff and eventually the National Championship Game. All he did was not allow a touchdown all season, facing future and current NFL receivers such as Debo Samuels and the Atlanta Falcons own, Calvin Ridley. His passer rating allowed when quarterbacks targeted him was a hair over 37! And he recorded nine passes defended and three interceptions.
That’s something common in Baker’s game throughout his career at Georgia – fantastic ball skills. He’s not afraid to take chances to make big plays and has outstanding instincts. Baker had two more interceptions and nine pass deflections as a senior; while once again not allowing a single touchdown, on his way to winning the Jim Thorpe award for the best defensive back in college football. His passer rating allowed was barely over 40 – what a drop off.
Baker’s production on the field at the college level is unprecedented. However, scouts question whether he will be as successful at the next level where he cannot be as physical.
His trail techniques and lateral movements are above-average for an NFL corner, and he loves bumping with receivers. Baker has no problem being left on an island in man-to-man coverage where he can use his physicality to his advantage. But with much stricter rules in the league, that contact isn’t going to fly, so Baker will have to rely more on his speed and technique at the next level. And as I have already noted, speed is the one red flag on his resumè.
With that said, Baker is going to be regarded as a tremendous corner when his career is finished. Those results don’t happen by accident against the best college competition he possibly could have faced. As his draft stock continues to slide, his value skyrockets, and somebody is going to find a steal if he falls past pick fifteen.
The two things I don’t want to see the Falcons do in this draft: select a corner with the 14th overall pick or move up in the first round. Atlanta has to find help on the offensive or defensive line early. It’s an absolute must. They also have too many needs to hand over a few of their draft picks and move into the top ten. Plus, this draft is loaded with potential stars throughout the first round. That’s why if the Falcons find themselves in a scenario where they believe they can trade down and select a premier talent on the offensive/defensive line and a cornerback like Baker, it would be the ideal path for them to take.
The Jim Thorpe Award winner would solidify the Falcons cornerback group for the future. The combination of Isaiah Oliver, Damontae Kazee and Baker is tantalizing to think about, but only if Atlanta addresses their most apparent needs first in the trenches. I find it hard to fathom a player with so much collegiate success could fall because of a slower 40-time than expected, but I’ve seen much stranger things happen come draft day. If Baker begins to slide, I’m all for Atlanta either trading back or finding their way back into the first round to take him.