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Falcons position group review: How will the cornerbacks fare in 2016?

Our series looking at improvement (or decline) in position groups across the Falcons roster. We continue by looking at the cornerbacks.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Despite missing on several picks, Thomas Dimitroff’s crowning achievement in recent years has been drafting two quality, starting cornerbacks. Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford have brought much-needed stability to a position that desperately needed youth in 2013. They’ve done exceptionally well considering the lack of pass rush over the past several seasons, as well.

Similar to last year, the depth at cornerback is very shaky. There aren’t any veterans or established nickel cornerbacks. Young players need to develop quickly, as offenses are operating more three wide-receiver sets and will force defenses to use their nickel package.

2016 Cornerback Projection

Desmond Trufant (Starter)

Robert Alford (Starter/Nickel corner)

Jalen Collins (Outside corner in Nickel Package)

Akeem King (Backup)

DeMarcus Van Dyke (Backup/Battling for roster spot)

2015 Cornerback Depth Chart

Desmond Trufant (Starter)

Robert Alford (Starter)

Phillip Adams (Nickel Corner)

Jalen Collins (Backup)

Akeem King (Backup)

For the third straight season, the same cornerback duo will be starting for the Falcons. It used to be a problematic position during the 2000’s. Trufant’s ascendance into stardom gives Atlanta their best cornerback since Ray Buchanan, in this writer's opinion. His instincts, footwork, and balance make him into a complete cornerback. Although Trufant’s ball skills remain as the only true flaw, he is constantly breaking up passes, when quarterbacks actually target him. Dan Quinn should allow him to shadow opposing number one wide receivers rather than keep him isolated on the left side.

After being plagued by injuries and inconsistency, Alford put it all together last season. His tendencies of being frequently penalized and ineffectively jumping routes were mostly removed. The former second-round pick matured into a quality number two cornerback. Alford produced a team-high 15 passes defensed and two interceptions. As he enters his prime, Atlanta will struggle to afford him in 2017. With cornerbacks like David Amerson getting paid handsomely, it would be shocking to see Alford not receive similar numbers elsewhere.

Alford’s long-term situation makes this a crucial year for Jalen Collins. A four-game suspension isn’t ideal following a poor rookie season. Collins looked raw, overwhelmed, and stiff in man coverage. It forced Quinn to bench him during the last month of the season. That looks even worse when you consider that the Falcons were essentially out of the playoff hunt at that point. At six-foot-one and known for playing press coverage at LSU, he possesses the fundamental attributes for Quinn’s scheme, but Collins needs to make strides to give the coaching staff confidence about Alford’s inevitable departure.

The rest of cornerback depth chart is unclear. Akeem King and DeMarcus Van Dyke appear to be the likely candidates to make the roster. It will be an open competition, as C.J Goodwin and David Mims II have made positive impressions.One of the underlying storylines of training camp will be how these young cornerbacks develop into playing larger roles. With no veterans signed (yet) and Collins’ suspension, someone will need to break out and claim a bigger role.

Is it better?

Without any new signings or promising development from the younger cornerbacks, it can’t be viewed as better. At the same time, there wasn’t much experience behind Trufant and Alford last year. Opposing quarterbacks picked on Philip Adams, especially in losses against New Orleans and San Francisco, so the front office didn’t bother re-signing him. It’s still concerning to see the Falcons not sign any other veteran cornerback. Leon Hall and Brandon Boykin are health risks, which ruled them out. With Collins missing four games, most fans expected them to sign at least one veteran cornerback, and while there's still time, we're not necessarily expecting it now.

The new regime isn’t afraid to address preseason issues. They traded for Andy Levitre following James Stone’s abysmal performances against the Jets and Dolphins. Although Levtire’s penalties and pass protection lapses were frustrating, he was clearly a massive upgrade over Stone. If the young cornerbacks don’t show any promise, the front office will likely make an immediate move. This position isn’t necessarily better, but there hasn’t been any decline either. Collins and King are expected to be valuable contributors. That will ultimately determine how the cornerbacks fare this season, especially with quarterbacks usually shying away from Trufant.