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5 most important defensive players going into 2020: A.J. Terrell is No. 4

The rookie is stepping into a crucial role right from the start.

NFL Combine - Day 6 Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the offensive side of the ball is where Atlanta’s identity lies, Dan Quinn’s unit hopes to improve on their No. 20-ranked total defense from 2019. That improvement could be key to getting Atlanta back into the playoffs for the first time in three years.

In case you missed it, we recently counted down the five most important players on the offensive side of the ball for the Falcons going into 2020. Now, we’re going to do the same exercise with the defensive unit.

Just like with the most important offensive players, I would like to note that this isn’t a direct list of the five best players on the defense side of the ball, but rather the five players whom the team can least afford to perform poorly or to lose to injury/suspension — whether that’s because of their incredible talent or because of the team’s lack of positional depth.

You can find No. 5 here.

4) A.J. Terrell

It’s not really fair to A.J. Terrell to be stepping into a situation where he’ll immediately be counted on as one of the most important players on defense (even more so than your average first-round pick), but such is the hand that he’s been dealt.

The No. 16 selection out of Clemson will step into a starting role at a position where the grouping is very inexperienced and unproven. The CB corps was boosted with the recent signing of Darqueze Dennard but it remains arguably the worst position grouping on Atlanta’s defense.

There won’t be much room for error for Terrell in Year 1. He’ll be asked to deliver solid play from the start and to cover wide receivers such as Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Michael Thomas, and D.J. Moore within the division.

You can see why the Falcons coveted Terrell in the first round when you look at his athleticism, speed, length and coverage instincts. He was the backend leader for one of the most formidable defenses in college football the past few years, and Atlanta will need his success in college to translate into immediate success at the professional level as well.

Many casual viewers have a negative perception of Terrell after watching him get beat by one of the most dominant offenses in college football history in the national championship game, but there was more to his college career than that one game.

Beyond Dennard and Terrell, Atlanta’s CB corps consists of Kendall Sheffield, Isaiah Oliver and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. All of them have potential to be very solid, but it seems imperative that Terrell have a good season for the sake of Atlanta’s secondary.