A bone-jarring hit that doesn’t seem like it could come from a 5’10, 205 pound cornerback. A sack of a hapless Mike Glennon, a run stop just out of the backfield, a materialization out of thin air to make an open field tackle. Hell, a quick change of direction to make a play on the ball he has no business getting to.
These are all hallmarks of Brian Poole, perhaps Atlanta’s single most underrated player, though likely not for much longer. Poole stepped in as the team’s primary nickel cornerback during their magical 2016 season, providing physicality, underrated blitzing skills and consistently quality coverage as an undrafted free agent. Through two games in 2017, where he has a combined 13 tackles (not a meaningful stat, per se, but it shows you how Poole flies to the ball) and a sack, Poole looks even better.
Poole allowed 43 catches on 67 targets for 464 yards and an opponent passer rating of 94.4. He gave up two touchdowns and didn't have an interception, but when you watch the tape, he's better than the numbers might say. Poole has the knack to stick with speedier slot receivers who frequently switch their routes at the line of scrimmage and confound bigger defenders with quick, angular movements.
This defense is just scratching the surface of how good it can be, with De’Vondre Campbell looking like a different player and expected improvement from Vic Beasley (unfortunately hurt), Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, and Grady Jarrett. But Poole has proven to be more vital than any of us could reasonably expect, and if he can continue to lock down the nickel corner role, I think it’s fair to expect great things sooner than later.