As we continue diving into measuring the NFC South’s position groups against each other, we reach a group that Atlanta Falcons fans had to wince at in 2019: the cornerback group.
No, coverage was not Atlanta’s forte in 2019, with Keanu Neal’s absence felt dramatically for a second-straight year and guys like Isaiah Oliver and Kendall Sheffield having to learn on the job after Desmond Trufant went down midway through the season.
The group looks pretty different now with Trufant elsewhere, not to mention 2020 first-round pick A.J. Terrell joining the group.
How does Atlanta’s group match up with what the rest of the NFC South has to offer?
Let’s find out.
Cornerbacks of note: A.J. Terrell, Isaiah Oliver, Kendall Sheffield, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Jordan Miller, Josh Hawkins, C.J. Reavis
Analysis: The Falcons have a ton of potential in the secondary, but potential takes time.
Oliver and Sheffield both showed growth down the stretch, and both will get meaningful snaps in starting reps this fall, if only out of necessity. Sheffield’s potential in the slot is distinct; Oliver’s maturity on the outside could help him live up to his draft status. Terrell has the makings of a fine corner, but he figures to need a year to get his feet under him. Fans shouldn’t expect too much out of him right away. Wreh-Wilson is a sound backup, and Miller intrigues for the little we’ve seen of him.
This group has promise, yes, but it’s also got a lot of question marks.
Ranking: Third in the NFC South
Cornerbacks of note: Eli Apple, Donte Jackson, Troy Pride, Corn Elder, Stantley Oliver-Thomas, Cole Luke
Analysis: The Panthers’ defense is in a bit of a rebuild at the moment, which is why this unit does not look the least bit fearsome on paper.
The team signed Apple in the second wave of NFL Free Agency, and he immediately slots in as the top corner on the roster. He and Jackson, a solid-enough starter with upside, will have a lot to prove against the elite NFC South wide receivers. Pride, a 2020 mid-round draft pick, could have a chance to play a lot early, but the team has to be careful not to overload him against so many talented receivers in the division too early, lest his confidence get shot.
This group is pretty suspect, to put it mildly.
Ranking: Fourth in the NFC South
Cornerbacks of note: Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins, Patrick Robinson, P.J. Williams, Justin Hardee, Johnson Bademosi, Deatrick Nichols
Analysis: Gracious. It doesn’t take a football expert to tell you the Saints have one of the best secondaries in the NFL. To think that Chris Harris could’ve joined this group gives you goosebumps.
Lattimore and Jenkins as a duo are one of the best starting tandems in the NFL, with Robinson and Williams as absurdly good depth. Either of those two latter guys could start in Carolina (and, honestly, Atlanta). Hardee is a solid depth guy, and Bademosi is one of the best special teams guys in the NFL. They will be hard to throw against next season, at least on paper.
This unit is ferocious. It’s not like it can win them a Super Bowl alone, but it sure can take the tops for the division.
Ranking: First in the NFC South
Cornerbacks of note: Carlton Davis, Ryan Smith, Sean Murphy-Bunting, M.J. Stewart, Jamel Dean, Mazzi Wilkins
The Buccaneers’ secondary doesn’t pop out on paper, but the entire unit works very well for what Todd Bowles likes to do.
Davis, Smith, Murphy-Bunting and Stewart are all emerging talents with highlights to support them, and Dean is an intriguing fifth wheel. The team spent a good bit of second-and-third-round draft capital on building this unit up, and one wonders if it’s close to becoming of a lockdown group than any of us would like to admit. Davis, in particular, looks like he could be a true lockdown corner one day.
This group might not pop out as much as Atlanta’s on paper, but 2019 and he talent on hand suggests it could be better.
Ranking: Second in NFC South