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Kendall Sheffield joins Atlanta with swagger, an eye on proving himself

It’s early, but the Falcons fourth rounder says he thinks he’s a first-round worthy player.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Texas Christian Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

New Falcons fourth rounder Kendall Sheffield is clearly a bit part of the team’s plans. They moved to get him, he fits the team’s preferences in terms of athleticism and length almost to a T, and Atlanta’s long-term picture at cornerback is fairly open. Given that the top three spots seem pretty well locked in, you’d expect Sheffield to mix in on special teams (perhaps as a returner), pick some snaps as the fourth or fifth cornerback, and compete for a bigger role in 2020.

Try telling Sheffield that, though. In a recent piece by Vaughn McClure, Sheffield made it clear that he’s itching for the opportunity to prove he never should’ve fallen all the way to the fourth round.

“I believe I was a first-round draft pick,” Sheffield said to ESPN, “and I’m ready to prove to everyone else that I’m a first-round draft pick.”

This is the kind of bold claim some rookies make and can’t back, but Sheffield’s a particularly interesting case. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t think he can be terrific if everything clicks, though it never entirely did at Alabama (he transferred) or during his career at Ohio State. That’s largely because Sheffield is going to be by far the fastest cornerback on the field for Atlanta and showed during his senior season at Ohio State that he has good enough instincts to use that speed to match some of the league’s fastest receivers, and his height and leaping ability means there won’t be many balls he can’t contest. There’s work to do here in coverage and in terms of physicality, and he’s not exactly an interception machine just yet, but as McClure notes the Falcons were not the only team that thinks he can put it all together.

One NFC scout referred to Sheffield as a “second-round talent who can really run” but noted he needs to prove he can be just as sharp mentally as he is physically. An AFC executive added, “Man, he’s talented. He just needs time; more playing time and experience. Obviously, he can really run and is athletic, but he needs more time to develop just pure cover skills.”

Again, the depth chart looks fairly crowded unless Damontae Kazee returns to safety, but Dan Quinn’s going to find a way to get a defensive back he clearly fell in love with on the field. It’s still unlikely to happen in 2019, but no one should be particularly surprised if Sheffield blossoms into a very good starter with the playing time he needs.