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Considering cornerback as a draft need for the Falcons

We’ve been reluctant to do it, but now’s the time.

NFL: NFC Wild Card-Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons have suggested, via their actions if not their words, that cornerback is a serious possibility in the first three rounds. Atlanta’s looked at Louisville’s Jaire Alexander and Colorado’s Isaiah Oliver, among others, and those guys are likely first round picks. Could the team seriously take a cornerback in the first round?

That’s a growing question in draft and fan circles alike, as the Falcons have now met with at least three of the draft’s top potential corners. There’s also a growing consensus that they’ll be lucky to get one of the four top defensive tackles on the board, and some believe that waiting for a DT like hyper-productive P.J. Hall or oft-mentioned B.J. Hill in the second or third round would still land the Falcons a productive player.

It’s something we’ve barely considered to this point here at The Falcoholic, but it is a more legitimate possibility than, say, wide receiver. To understand why, we have to look at the team’s cornerback situation.

Consider this: Robert Alford is 29 years old (30 in November), and his contract becomes incredibly easy for the Falcons to get out of post-2018. He’ll have a dead money hit of just $1.2 million in 2019 and $600,000 in 2020, meaning if there’s any decline at all in his skills at 30, 31, or 32, the Falcons can escape it. They can also re-structure his contract in either of those years—when he has $9.1 million in cap hits if he’s on the team—to give him more job security and free up a few million dollars. It’s a nicely structured deal.

The same is not true of Desmond Trufant, who carries dead money of $23 million in 2018, $14.6 million in 2019, $10.2 million in 2020, $5.8 million in 2021, and finally $1.4 million in 2022. Incredibly, he’ll only be 31 in 2022, too, so he here’s for the long haul.

Pair that with the fact that Brian Poole is an elite tackler and blitzer at cornerback, but not exactly a wizard in coverage, and the team’s interest in cornerback becomes a little more clear. Ideally they’d have an upgrade in that department at the nickel who could take over for Alford in the next couple of years if necessary. If it’s not necessary, the Falcons have the good problem of having three talented corners to trot out in nickel sets, with Poole and Damontae Kazee capable of pitching in at cornerback and safety. Add in Blidi Wreh-Wilson for 2018 and you’ve got an intimidating depth chart.

If the Falcons are truly big believers in this defensive tackle class, they could choose to put DT off until the second or third round and try to land an elite cornerback in the first. It would be a bit of a gamble—the Falcons absolutely need a young, promising player who can take a significant number of snaps on the interior of the defensive line—but I wouldn’t rule it out entirely. It’s a potential short-term upgrade that could pay off down the line, too.