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2020 NFL Draft grades: Falcons CB A.J. Terrell gets mixed marks

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The consensus seems to be that Terrell is a solid but unspectacular needs-based pick for Atlanta.

Clemson v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

It’s rare indeed that grades at the time a selection is made hold up years later, either because they were far too negative, far too positive, or just a little off on a player’s value. Nonetheless, they’re a great snapshot of how analysts are feeling about a player’s fit with a team and their upside, and thus we pull them together year after year.

It’s safe to say that while Terrell is excited to be here, the Falcons front office clearly wanted him, and there are positive early reviews from a handful of analysts, the general consensus out there in the land of draft discussion is that Terrell was more of a needs-based pick and not the best player available to Atlanta. While most acknowledged he was a good fit for the Atlanta defense, criticism of his tendency to allow long plays and his technique were frequent in writeups I read last night.

Of course, much of this is still based on expectations. After we were warned this would be a goofy draft, things were pretty sedate and predictable the whole way up, with the Raiders and Henry Ruggs providing one of the few real surprises of the early evening. The Falcons changed that with Terrell, a player few had mocked to them until shortly before the draft, and unsurprisingly that has everyone talking about a reach. If he proves to be one, it’s unlikely the current regime will be here to dispute the grade a year or two down the line, but let’s hope these grades are all wildly off.

Here’s a few I collected, plus the early grades from both the fan poll here and on Twitter.

SB Nation: Ungraded, but down on the pick

Terrell won’t make much of an impact anywhere besides in coverage, and even then he still makes a few too many mistakes when playing the ball. He was beat several times for long gains last season, including against LSU (but then again, who wasn’t?) but still did limit completions very well during his entire career.

He’s a wild card at the CB position this year. This seems like a reach.

CBS Sports: C+

I don’t love this pick. I think desperation forced this pick because they have issues at corner. They saw the first two corners go off the board and stood pat and went corner. There were pass rushers available.

Sports Illustrated: B-

Terrell fits the long-bodied, rangy athletic profile of a cornerback in Dan Quinn’s Seahawks-style Cover 3 scheme. He changes directions soundly and can win through physicality or finesse. (In Atlanta, he’ll likely be encouraged to go with physicality.)

This selection could be viewed as a mild admission of underachievement from 2018 second-rounder Isaiah Oliver, who likely will now be cemented into the nickel outside corner role that he was demoted to down the stretch last season. Second-year pro Kendall Sheffield becomes the likely full-time slot defender. If all goes well, Atlanta will have three quality corners, which would allow them to maximize those Cover 3 zone concepts and continue to quietly dabble in more man-to-man than people realize.

Atlanta’s biggest need entering this draft was pass rusher—preferably an edge guy to align opposite free agent pickup Dante Fowler, which would enable Takk McKinley to slide inside. But this draft is light on ready-made first-round caliber pass rushers, and so Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff took the fuller value player.

The Ringer: C

The Falcons were rumored to be hot on CJ Henderson, but after watching the Florida star go off the board to the Jaguars, Atlanta went with Terrell instead. He’s a long, battle-tested defender who plays with physicality and toughness at the catch point. He’s strong with his jam, has good ball skills (with six interceptions and 14 passes defensed in three seasons at Clemson), and brings the speed to cover deep. But despite that skill set, he’s a bit stiff-hipped in his transitions, has the tendency to give up too much cushion on come-back and hitch routes, and struggled badly against LSU’s top-tier receivers in the national championship game―a worrisome red flag for his transition to the pros. Terrell fits the Falcons’ scheme and fills a need, but as the no. 36 player on my board (with several higher-ranked corners on that list), this pick feels like a reach.

Bleacher Report: C

Clemson cranks out 6’1”, 195-ish-pound cornerbacks with sub-4.5 speed as if it has an assembly line. Terrell’s measurables are similar to those of Trayvon Mullen (whom the Raiders drafted in the second round last year), Cordrea Tankersley (Round 3, Dolphins, 2017) and Byron Maxwell (Round 6, Seahawks, 2011). Mackensie Alexander (Round 2, Vikings, 2015) and Bashaud Breeland (Round 4, Washington, 2014) were a little shorter but otherwise similar.

Like many of these former Tigers defenders, Terrell shines in press coverage and can deny receivers the ball on contested catches. But he can be overaggressive at times, loses a little speed when he turns to run and will whiff on some tackles.

Clemson cornerbacks can usually afford to beat up receivers on the line and not worry about what happens down the field because they are supported by top safeties and a nasty pass rush. Terrell has the tools of a top defender, but he’s more likely to settle into a Breeland-like role as a second or third cornerback.

The Falcons have a dire need in the secondary, where Isaiah Oliver and Jordan Miller are currently penciled in as the starting cornerbacks. The problem is that this feels like a “need” pick. Frankly, there were better players on the board than Terrell.

Sporting News: B-

The Falcons address a position of need after trading Desmond Trufant to the Lions, though they did have a chance to add the explosive, versatile K’Lavon Chaisson to fill a big playmaking void at linebacker. Terrell (6-1, 195 pounds) is a versatile cover man for his size who can work both outside and inside, in both man and zone schemes. He needs to learn to win battles with better technique and handwork.

USA Today: F

Terrell is a burner with the build you look for in an NFL cornerback. He’s just not all that great at playing football. He has a hard time sticking close to receivers downfield and even when he does, his ball skills are lacking. There were a handful of corners with more well-rounded games still left on the board. A trade down would have made the most sense if Atlanta loved Terrell.

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