After a brief hiatus, we're finishing up the "last three" positions, in quotations because I'm mushing kicker, punter and returner into the same post. Cornerback might be the most vital position on the roster, because the Falcons simply don't seem to have a #2 cornerback on the team today.
Needless to say, they'll be looking to draft one, but this is a position that could use more than one addition. To better understand what I mean, join me on a trip down the depth chart!
Starter: Asante Samuel
2012 stats: 36 tackles, 5 interceptions, 19 pass deflections, 1 touchdown
Washed up, my ass.
Samuel was his usual excellent self as a ballhawking cornerback in 2012, but he was also the team's best bet against opposing elite wide receivers and did quite well in coverage. His notoriously poor tackling reared its head a handful of times, but mostly he was solid even in that area. He had, in short, an awfully nice season for a guy traded for a seventh round pick.
Samuel's not young, but at 32 he's still playing at a very high level and should continue to do so in 2013. He's the top corner on this team, he'll lock down opposing wide receivers and barring injury, Samuel will have another great season. I feel very, very good about his 2013.
Starter by default: Robert McClain
2012 stats: 61 tackles, 1 interception, 10 pass deflections
McClain was a huge and pleasant surprise in 2012. After squeaking on to the team after a so-so pre-season, McClain showed excellent coverage chops, particularly as the team's primary nickel cornerback, and was a bright spot throughout the season.
McClain enters 2013 as the team's unquestioned nickel back. He's still just 24 years old and is an extremely valuable player on a cheap contract. I thought he might get a crack outside, but it's looking increasingly likely that the team will keep him where he's most comfortable and most efffective. If he plays at a level similar to last year, the Falcons will fare very well against slot receivers in 2013.
Reserve: Dominique Franks
2012 stats: 14 tackles, 2 pass deflections
Franks is fast becoming a pariah in Atlanta. After being cut and then re-signed, he turned in an abysmal performance as the team's punt returner most of last year. That and the fact that he was essentially the fifth cornerback made more than a few of us wonder what he was even doing on the roster.
Franks is still just 25 years old and has good size for a cornerback. He's had flashes of effectiveness in the past, and the Falcons only have four cornerbacks on the roster right now. Even if they upgrade, there's a good chance that he'll make the final roster, if only as a special teamer and potential cornerback/safety hybrid.
Practice Squad: Peyton Thompson
Thompson intrigued me last year and continues to do so. The 2012 UDFA was quality in coverage and an above-average tackler, so there's enough promise here to warrant a second look. Dollars to doughnuts he's fighting against a seventh round pick in camp for a roster spot, though.
The Falcons are not in particularly great shape at cornerback. Samuel and McClain are both nice players, but when you don't have a true #2 corner and you don't have much in the way of depth, you're in trouble. I think you could argue fairly convincingly that this is the weakest position on the entire roster. I'm grading it that way