Welcome to another edition of Stormy Skies, where I try to figure out where in the great blue depth chart players are going to be slotted. This edition will deal with the competition for the second cornerback position, which will obviously ignore incumbent #1 DeAngelo Hall. This battle will feature three chief contenders, veteran Lewis Sanders and rookies Chris Houston and David Irons. Let's get down to the fisticuffs...
Please welcome Lewis Sanders. Texans and Browns fans can tell you much more about him than I can, but the dude's never been starting cornerback material in the past. His highest interception total over his 7 years has been a scant two, and last season he notched his highest tackle total at 43. He's a physical enough player, but he's not terifically speedy and his instincts are a little suspect. I would suspect that his coverage against a really strong #2 receiver would be enough to make my eyes wander toward the train wreck that was Jason Webster. I have nothing against Sanders, but he'll be a much better nickel or dime back than a starting corner. His liabilities in coverage and his lack of elite speed are obscured by his ability to make a hit and cheat a little near the line of scrimmage.
Let's put it this way: Lewis Sanders is only in this competition because he's a veteran with experience. Compared to Irons and especially Houston, he simply does not have the physical tools to project as a starter. More than likely he'll star the year as the nickel back, and I have no doubt he'll be a good fit in Atlanta's system. I don't expect him to sniff the #2 slot unless someone gets hurt.
Predicted Stats: 32 tackles, 1 interception, 0 sacks, 4 pass deflections
Out of Arkansas we have Chris Houston, a fiery young cornerback with nothing to lose. Houston was drafted with the expectation that he would contend for the slot opposite DeAngelo, and thus far he's done nothing to waver my opinion of him. The dude is fast and physical, and though he's not a tall corner he's got good ups and instincts. He's going to need some time at the NFL level before he gets the system down, but he's got worlds of promise. Like his fellow second round draftee Justin Blalock, Houston is more or less pre-packaged to be a starter coming out of school. He just needs some seasoning, and my guess is that Pet Rhino will be giving him plenty of that. He's easily the frontrunner for the #2 spot.
One of the advantages to having Lewis Sanders around is that Houston will have to earn his spot. I'm not trying to say he's not a hard worker in the first place, but competition usually brings out the best in rookies. The harder Houston has to fight to get a job the coaching staff is holding for him, the more likely he is to carry over into the season. For a young cornerback, determination can trump skill, especially after the first time you watch a guy like Torry Holt burn you so badly you need skin grafts. That being said, I definitely expect Houston to start and do well.
Predicted Stats: 40 tackles, 4 interceptions, 1.0 sack(s), 6 pass deflections.
His brother Kenny stole the spotlight, but David Irons quietly cobbled together a pretty nice career over at Auburn. He's a little older than most of the players the Falcons picked up in the draft and his decision making skills will have to improve, but he's got undeniable talent. Curiously enough, you could say that Irons is the least polished out of the trio of Sanders, Houston and himself. This despite his age and his experience at a very famous football program. Whatever his drawbacks, he's quick and very capable of getting to the ball. After he adapts to the learning curve of the NFL, I think he can challenge Houston for playing time. I'm more optimistic than most, however.
For his first year in the NFL, Irons is likely to serve as the team's dime back when packages call for it. He'll be able to spell Sanders at time, but as much as I like the Auburn product, I think Sanders represents the safer option with his experience and track record. I think Irons will be an effective nickel back in the NFL at the very least, but he's going to need a good chunk of time to adapt to that level. Don't expect to see him on the field a ton this year.
Predicted Stats 10 tackles, 1 interception, 0.0 sacks, 2 passes deflected.
Final Word: Chris Houston is the winner, and I suspect it won't be all that close. The corner depth chart should then go: