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Which Falcons have the most to prove on defense over the last seven weeks?

Two players who are performing well versus two cornerbacks who need strong finishes to impress the next staff.

NFL: AUG 01 Preseason - Hall of Fame Game - Falcons v Broncos Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Earlier this week, we looked at the Falcons on offense who have plenty to prove to the next regime in these final seven games of the 2020 season. That doesn’t include Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, who are playing at a high level and have plenty of history to suggest how they’ll play going forward, but it did include guys like Russell Gage and James Carpenter.

Today, I’d like to look at four players on defense who figure to benefit a lot from strong finishes to the 2020 season. Let’s get into it.

DT John Cominsky

Cominsky’s in an interesting spot. The Falcons have Grady Jarrett and second round pick Marlon Davidson will be a priority for the next staff to develop, but the team has a pretty unsettled line after that. Cominsky came into the league as a defensive end the staff switched him to defensive tackle more or less full-time this year, but the next coaching staff won’t necessarily be married to that move.

Regardless of where he lines up, Cominsky would ideally step into a major role with the next regime, given that he’s shown versatility, effectiveness as a pass rusher, and real potential to be a quality full-time starter if given the chance. These final seven games can help him make that case.

CB Isaiah Oliver

Few players struggled more than Oliver in the early weeks of the season, as the veteran mixed a few nice plays with some of the most visible and cringeworthy coverage mistakes of the year. After Kendall Sheffield returned his snaps started to roll back a bit and the powers that be started using him a bit differently, and the result has been visible improvement from Oliver. With more snaps as a slot cornerback and some use as a blitzer, he’s been providing considerably more value to the Atlanta defense.

The question is where he’ll end up fitting in 2020. Oliver has been a mighty frustrating player throughout much of his tenure in Atlanta, but there are still those glimpses of the talent that got him drafted in the second round in the first place, and a new coaching staff will want to tap into that. The question is whether he goes into the year with a leg up on a starting job or a clear role as a reserve in the final year of his rookie deal.

CB Kendall Sheffield

Sheffield is in a similar boat as Oliver, but with the advantage of being on an affordable rookie deal for two more years, if he makes a strong impression on the next coaching staff. Like Oliver, his best chance to do that will come in the summer of 2021, but the caliber of work he does the rest of the way will help or hurt, as well.

Also like Oliver, 2020 has been a forgettable year for Sheffield on balance. He’s played plenty since returning from injury, but he’s been struggling mightily in coverage. Sheffield has the opportunity to prove that’s just post-injury rust-knocking and not an indicator of how good he can be with time, and he’ll need to do that to separate himself from Oliver and the team’s other options heading into 2021.

S Ricardo Allen

Allen’s in a similar position to James Carpenter on the offensive side of things, though he is obviously a better player. His contract screams cut, given that Atlanta can realize $6 million in cap savings by doing so, but he’s one of just two safeties under contract and can still help the Atlanta defense.

Seven games shouldn’t make or break anyone on this list or the offensive side of the ball, but it’s hard not to feel like this will be a truly vital stretch for Allen in particular, given that he was a part-time player the first two weeks of the season and didn’t play at all in Weeks 3 and 4. If he’s the Allen of old down the stretch, it seems likely the next front office and coaching staff would look at restructuring his deal to keep him around than cutting ties with him.

Who else would you add to this list?