I've been so locked in on Dominique Franks versus Chris Owens for the nickel job—and so many of you have been urging the Falcons to go out and sign a veteran—that we missed the hooves of the dark horse candidate.
That would be Darrin Walls, Notre Dame undrafted free agent and Official Site guru Jay Adams's sleeper pick to make the final roster. While we were all fretting over Owens putting on his helmet backwards and Franks not flashing elite coverage ability, Walls has been quietly putting together a very strong pre-season.
That hasn't gone unnoticed, either. John Manasso reports that the Falcons could try Walls at the nickel with their first-team defense against the Steelers, which is pretty heady stuff for a UDFA. It shows the coaching staff is intrigued, and that Walls has done enough to earn that.
So what's the upside here? Considerable, actually. Walls is a very athletic cornerback, taller than Brent Grimes and known for ballhawking at Notre Dame. He wasn't drafted, yes, but with some time in the system and a little polishing on the rough edges of his game, Walls could be at the very least a valuable reserve for the Falcons. The team, to its credit, recognizes that and is trying to give him a chance to flash that talent. At this point, I'd say he's got a very good shot at sticking as the team's fifth cornerback.
EDIT: I am aware that Chris Owens is being held out of this game, and should have noted it. It's still worth noting that a UDFA is going to be playing with the first team at all.
For those wondering, here's a very quick and dirty look at his college stats:
Walls: 100 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 19 passes defensed, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 partridge in a pear tree
Now, to be clear, Franks is still the clear frontrunner for the nickel job. He's starting Friday's game in Dunta Robinson's place and has shown enough to be considered a better option than Owens, at the very least. But Walls is sticking his foot in the door, and I don't think Owens is guaranteed any particular number of snaps once the season hits.
tomorrow Saturday is a big day for Darrin Walls. What do you expect to see from him?