The Falcons have not enjoyed a stellar year of cornerback play, which you may have noticed. Games like Cleveland, New Orleans and Cincinnati were decided in large part because corners either failed in coverage, dropped easy picks, or missed tackles, and frustration in the fanbase is starting to boil over.
How bad is it? Let’s take where Pro Football Focus ranks the team’s top three cornerbacks.
Performance and grades
- Desmond Trufant: #68
- Robert Alford: #109
- Brian Poole: #70
Trufant has been a quietly great cover cornerback for years now, but he scuffled for stretches in 2017 and that has continued in 2018, including some brutally bad dropped picks and a seeming aversion to contact that’s a little unusual for the veteran. Alford has graded out as one of the worst cornerbacks in the NFL, and he’s mixed a handful of good games with some of the worst efforts of his career, especially against Cincinnati and New York where he was absolutely blown off the field. And Poole, for all his strengths as a physical presence and a playmaker, is nobody’s idea of elite in coverage.
For perspective’s sake, Isaiah Oliver (65.7 grade, compared to Trufant’s 60.8 and Alford’s 48.9) and Blidi Wreh-Wilson (90.6!) have been much more effective in limited opportunities than the starters. If you’re a little skeptical of PFF grades—which is reasonable—you can go back and watch the games and see this more or less borne out.
The big question
So here’s the take I’ve been building to, and it’s one that I have not come to easily or readily: Should the Falcons make changes at cornerback?
This isn’t an easy question for a number of reasons. While seemingly every Falcons fan has it in for either Alford or Trufant, the truth is that both have had quality careers to this point, Trufant a little more so than Alford. The latter was legitimately the team’s best cornerback by a wide margin in 2017, however, which makes his awful 2018 all the harder to square. The Falcons invested in both players and won’t be eager to park either on the bench. I’d go as far as to say that Trufant is not getting benched at all, and Alford is still unlikely to be.
But we’re not asking what’s going to happen, we’re asking whether the Falcons should consider it. The answer to that one is clearer, because Alford in particular is either injured or unable to perform consistently with the team’s injury and pass rush situation. The Falcons have to at least consider giving him a breather and starting Isaiah Oliver, who could use the playing time and had an encouraging effort against Washington. They also need to find a way to get Blidi Wreh-Wilson on the field more and see whether his extremely high level of performance for the Falcons during his time here is a product of limited snaps or a sign that Wreh-Wilson is an asset in this scheme.
Honestly, it’s also something the Falcons should consider with an eye on the future. Desmond Trufant’s contract essentially makes him uncuttable in the short-term, but the Falcons can save almost $8 million by releasing him in the offseason. I’m not specifically advocating that course of action—again, Alford’s track record suggests he’ll bounce back, and I hope he does—but that’s a significant chunk of change for a team that’s going to need it, and needs to figure out how quickly Oliver is going to be ready to be the #2 cornerback they drafted him to be.
Ultimately, the Falcons are still alive in the playoff hunt, and they’ve made a very big deal about how much that matters to this football team. If their current starting configuration of cornerbacks isn’t going to get the job done, it’s time for the Falcons to at least think about plugging that particular hole before the whole ship floods.