The Falcons love cornerbacks. In Thomas Dimitroff’s Falcons era, few positions have received as much draft love (or trade love, or free agent dollars) than cornerback, starting with the immortal Chevis Jackson and ranging onward to Dunta Robinson, Asante Samuel, and eventually Desmond Trufant. So in that light, a cornerback at 14 would not be at all surprising, seeing as Dimitroff is still at the helm and Dan Quinn’s abiding fondness for CBs is equally known.
It would be a seismic sort of selection, however. If the Falcons take a cornerback at #14, they are not doing so in order to bolster their depth for 2019, but to supplant an existing starter. That might be Isaiah Oliver, which would be disappointing a year after the team spent a second round pick on him, or it might be Desmond Trufant, who remains underrated in coverage but is a player increasingly out of step with a “let’s create turnovers” ethos.
I still view this as a longshot, but it’s been discussed enough that it’s worth considering the ramifications.
Who might the Falcons take?
The first name to know is Greedy Williams, who will fulfill his destiny as both a cornerback selection and an LSU pick, given that Dan Quinn has nabbed one of those in every draft class he’s been involved in. He has the length, coverage skills, and ball skills to be great, but he’s not the most physical cornerback, nor the most natural at tracking the ball in the air. If selected, Williams might work his way into a starter’s role, but he’d be expected to be the team’s #1 cornerback eventually.
Georgia’s stellar Deandre Baker is another possibility despite less than stellar testing numbers, as is Washington’s versatile and smooth Byron Murphy. Rock Ya-Sin from Temple has a wonderful name and excellent game, but might be a stretch as high as 14.
What does it mean for the roster in 2019?
Confusion, to begin with. The Falcons have talked up Isaiah Oliver and the young corner’s length and ball skills made him a well-received selection just last year, and Damontae Kazee’s potential as the team’s nickel corner is sky-high, especially if you’re looking for turnovers. Drafting a corner to replace either one would seem odd, which would leave Desmond Trufant.
Trufant is one of the most polarizing players on the team today, with his generally strong coverage belied by some poor stretches over the last couple of seasons, plus his notorious habit of dropping interceptions. He’s not one of the league’s truly elite #1s at the moment, but he’s just 28, coming off a largely fine season in a decimated secondary, and his contract is difficult to escape without massive penalties until after 2020. If the Falcons are drafting a Trufant replacement, they’d likely be looking to deal him at some point, but that isn’t without its ramifications.
If the Falcons draft a cornerback at 14 just to serve as the team’s fourth option in their rookie season, it’s a pick that suggests a perhaps unwarranted confidence in the overall talent level of the roster, given the need for starting-caliber players at tackle, defensive end, and elsewhere. That’s one of the reasons it still feels like a stretch in the first round.
What does it mean long-term?
That the team doesn’t truly believe in either Desmond Trufant or Isaiah Oliver as a starter, or a simple desire to grab an elite player at a position where the Falcons don’t currently have any truly elite players. Any way you slice it, it would mean Oliver sinking down the depth chart or Trufant being supplanted, which the Falcons would have to believe would improve the cornerback corps significantly to actually do it.
What are the opportunity costs?
Significant! Drafting a cornerback who either turns Trufant into a trade candidate or unhappy albatross contract or simmers on the bench for a while could upgrade the cornerback position if all goes well, but in a year where the Falcons are flush with picks it has them searching for long-term starters at right tackle, defensive end, and perhaps defensive tackle and linebacker later when relative slam dunks at those positions are no longer available. It would signal that the team has a ton of confidence in their ability to land those players later or significant faith in their current roster at those positions, and to be perfectly frank both of those stances would be odd in light of what we can plainly see from our couches, to say nothing of this team’s weaknesses in 2018.
Again, to justify a cornerback at 14, they’d either have to be an immediate high-quality starter or one of the better cornerbacks in the league in 2020 and beyond. That’s an odd play for a front office and head coach widely considered to be embattled.
Should the Falcons do it?
No, with caveats. If the Falcons don’t have a plan to offload Trufant for future assets, a cornerback at 14 is either going to turn him into an extremely expensive fourth cornerback or the rookie’s going to sit for an uncomfortably long time as a top 15 selection. They could be thinking about replacing Oliver, but that would indicate that they’d given up on a second round pick at a position of need they just took last year, which would somehow be even worse.
If you have a buyer for Trufant and you’re just looking to load up your cornerback corps with young ballhawks, then you don’t have to squint too hard to see the short-term and long-term appeal for the Falcons. Otherwise, they’re likely to be able to land an immediate starter/significant piece of the rotation at another key position, and I’d prefer they went that route.