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A.J. Terrell proving to be an up-and-coming defensive star

One of the NFL’s brightest young corners wears a Falcons uniform.

There hasn’t been much to be excited about this season. The Atlanta Falcons overall have been up and down, with the up being close games won by seven or fewer points, plus some spectacular individual highlights. As the now 3-4 Falcons search for their identity this season, they do have a bright spot in some of their young players.

The most notable through Week 8 is cornerback A.J. Terrell, who is in his second NFL season. Terrell was selected 14th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft to the enthusiasm of relatively few Falcons fans. Many recalled his struggles against Ja’Marr Chase in the 2020 college football championship and prepared to write him off all together.

In the NFL and in just his second year, though, Terrell is proving to be one of the leagues young up-and-coming defensive stars. Aside from missing Week 3 against the New York Giants and leaving early against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins, Terrell has been a prime example of what stability looks like. When he’s on the field, the Falcons’ defense is noticeably better.

Currently on the season, Terrell is Pro Football Focus’ 9th graded corner and finished Week 8 as the 3rd best corner per their rankings. When looking at all corners this season who have played at least half of 360 possible snaps, Terrell has allowed only 5.0 yards per catch this season, which is the fewest allowed in the entire league. Before anyone mentions his interceptions this year, the top corners in the league typically don’t have a high amount of turnovers because they’re rarely thrown at.

In 2021 alone, Terrell has been thrown at just 23 times, allowing only 11 of those passes to be caught. What makes this even more incredible is that the Falcons have one of the worst pass rushes in the league, so the work Terrell and to a lesser extent Fabian Moreau are doing right now is worth calling out. The Falcons have only 10 sacks through Week 8, with the Miami Dolphins being the only team with fewer. An awful pass rush makes it difficult for corners to succeed in coverage, a fact we all know too well.

Trevon Diggs, who is having a great rookie season and has a league-high seven interceptions, has been thrown at 43 times. Diggs is playing spectacularly in his own right, and is an exemption from this thought, but when you look at the corners behind Diggs in the interception race, they all have 30+ total passes thrown their way. Putting it simply, Terrell just isn’t getting a lot of opportunity for turnovers because quarterbacks are avoiding him. Of all passes this season being thrown at receivers covered by Falcons’ corners, only 22% have gone Terrell’s way.

He may not be a household name on the national level yet, even if he deserves to be, but if Terrell keeps playing this well that recognition will come. For now, it’s enough to know the Falcons have a true star and defensive building block in the secondary in A.J. Terrell.