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Falcons post-2019 roster review, cornerback edition

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Desmond Trufant and a bunch of youngsters.

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons defense was abysmal for a good bit of 2019. Through the first 8 games, a big reason why was the play of the secondary. While they improved over the last 8 games, there are still plenty of questions about this unit and whether or not that improvement will carry over into 2020. Let’s take stock of how they did in 2019 to determine what this year may look like.

Starters

CB Desmond Trufant

2019 stats: 9 games, 4 interceptions, 7 passes defended, 18 tackles, 106.3 passer rating allowed

Contract: 3 years remaining

Trufant is a polarizing figure with fans. Many think he’s overpaid and should be cut while others recognize that he’s a good player at a tough position. Either way, Tru missed nearly half the season battling a toe injury and later a broken forearm. Yet, he managed to pull in 4 interceptions on the year (the only corner on the team with any) and he played well down the stretch.

While the team could free up some cap space (just under 5M saved) by cutting him, the dead money hit (10.2M) likely means he’s coming back in 2020. If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a decent starter with the potential to be more.

CB Isaiah Oliver

2019 stats: 16 games, 0 interceptions, 11 passes defended, 61 tackles, 106.9 passer rating allowed

Contract: 2 years remaining

When the Falcons let Robert Alford walk about 2018, it was under the expectation that Oliver would step in and be a solid replacement. That’s not quite what happened. Isaiah Oliver has all the traits you’d want in a corner, but his coverage was spotty at best. While this did improve somewhat during the year, the team began using guys like Sheffield and Blidi Wreh-Wilson to take some of his snaps away. Oliver was a very good tackler, however and there’s some hope he can take another step forward in year three. After all, this was his first year as a starter.

While all of us wished Oliver would have stepped in and been an immediate high-quality starter, the reality is that it’s hard to play corner in the NFL. Many guys need 2 or 3 years to get adjusted to the speed of the NFL game. For Oliver, year 3 will be a critical one. The team needs him to leap forward quickly.

CB Kendall Sheffield

2019 stats: 16 games, 0 interceptions, 3 passes defended, 43 tackles, 100.9 passer rating allowed

Contract: 3 years remaining

Sheffield was a prospect who was considered very raw, but who had incredible potential. That’s basically what we saw on the field in 2019. At moments, he looked like a lost rookie. During others, he flashed his speed and athleticism. He’s certainly a player the team will want to see more of in 2020, but his role is a little fuzzy. He will likely compete with Oliver for the starting position opposite of Trufant with the “loser” taking the field in nickel and dime sets.

He’s got a ton of potential, but 2019 didn’t give us much of a clue about what to expect from him in 2020.

Reserves

CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson

2019 stats: 14 games, 0 interceptions, 7 passes defended, 24 tackles, 95.2 passer rating allowed

Contract: Free agent

Honestly, Wreh-Wilson gave the Falcons exactly what you want out of a veteran backup. He stepped in and played well when Trufant went down with injury and while you may not want to make him a permanent 16 game starter, he was able to start periodically and look competent doing so. The team should strongly consider bringing him back in on another veteran one-year deal.

CB Jordan Miller

2019 stats: 5 games, 0 interceptions, 0 passes defended, 3 tackles, 93.8 passer rating allowed

Contract: 3 years remaining

The other rookie corner of the 2019 class didn’t make enough of a splash, other than getting suspended for 4 games (3 to be served in 2020) for performance-enhancing substance abuse.

Outlook: Uncertain

While Trufant looks like a lock to be a dependable (if not particularly exciting) starter in 2020, anything beyond him is a huge question mark. The trio of young guys (Oliver, Sheffield, Miller) are loaded with promise and have the athletic traits to succeed, but none of them have done anything to inspire a high level of confidence. This is partly why many draft analysts believe the Falcons could surprise fans by taking another corner in the first round this year.

With limited funds to work with in free agency, that doesn’t seem like such a stretch. Otherwise, the team will go into 2020 betting big on their ability to develop these young guys. If they don’t succeed, we could be looking at a very poor secondary yet again.