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3 Up, 3 Down: A.J. Terrell is becoming a superstar in front of our eyes

Keeping track of which Falcons are rising and falling throughout the 2021 season.

NFL: OCT 24 Falcons at Dolphins Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

This Falcons season has not gone the way anyone could have expected, but after another last-second road win, they find themselves at 4-4 with a victory against the New Orleans Saints. That explanation, of course, glosses over the fact that Atlanta again gave up a huge lead in the fourth quarter, but why spoil a good feeling?

Perhaps more importantly, some of the Falcons’ best players played like it, and this team continues to fight through adversity. For the first time in the last few seasons, Atlanta’s football team is still in the mix this close to Thanksgiving, so maybe we should just be grateful.

Up

CB A.J. Terrell

Sunday was quite possibly the best game A.J. Terrell has played in the NFL. Yes, he technically did give up a touchdown, but he was schemed into a bit of an impossible situation on that play. More importantly, Terrell made three spectacular pass breakups and has been very active in run defense as well. This was a breakout game in the midst of a breakout season for the former first-round draft pick.

Terrell’s PFF grade of 77.6 was the second-highest among Falcons defenders on Sunday, and his emergence has helped Atlanta rank 13th in pass defense through all but one game in Week 9. I’ve thought for a while that finding a legitimate No. 1 corner would really speed up Atlanta’s potential turnaround on the football field. Thankfully, they already have one.

LB James Vaughters

James Vaughters was elevated off the practice squad for the Dolphins and Panthers games, but he was officially signed to Atlanta’s 53-man roster ahead of Sunday’s game against the Saints. That proved to be a great decision.

Vaughters was the highest-graded defender for the Falcons, per PFF, with a stellar grade of 85.4. His 91.4 pass-rush grade was the best among all pass rushers in the league for Week 9. More importantly, Vaughters made a critical strip-sack in the fourth quarter that allowed Atlanta to extend its lead on the very next play. The Falcons needed players to step up this season, and they are getting it from guys like Vaughters.

QB Matt Ryan

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

A number of guys on offense could have earned this spot, but a great afternoon from Matt Ryan should never be overlooked. With Drew Brees finally expunged from these twice-a-year events, Ryan needed to tilt the scales in Atlanta’s favor.

He came through with an insane stat line – 20-of-23 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions – and he also made some great plays with his legs, including a relatively easy rushing touchdown. The Falcons’ fortunes will always be tied with Ryan, and he’s doing his absolute best to make sure he’s got another shot at the playoffs before all is said and done.

Down

RB Mike Davis

NFL: NOV 07 Falcons at Saints Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Mike Davis plays hard and seems to be a genuinely well-liked guy in this locker room, but he also almost fumbled away a game as in-hand as could be for a team down by one point. This has not been the season most expected for Davis, who arrived in Atlanta as the presumed starter.

While he’s not ceded any type of role to others and continues to split carries and snaps with Patterson, it’s clear the Falcons always envisioned this as a true timeshare between Davis and Cordarrelle Patterson. And while Patterson is lighting it up as a receiver, neither has been dominant on the ground. Davis gained just 13 yards on nine carries Sunday, and he was the team’s leading rusher. Yikes.

DT Tyeler Davison

The former Saints defensive tackle has been a very underrated part of Atlanta’s defensive front the last couple of seasons. Tyeler Davison’s specialty, however, has always been run defense. Whether it’s the result of scheme changes and a new role or a down year, Davison just hasn’t been making the impact in that part of the game that he typically does.

His role on the defense is seemingly shrinking as well (his 22 snaps on Sunday were the fewest he’s played all season). On top of that, Davison was the player who jumped on a fourth-and-short, which allowed the Saints to eventually kick a field goal and spark their comeback.

S Erik Harris

I’ve been tempted to put Erik Harris down here a few different weeks, but I’ve not been able to bring myself to. I don’t think he’s played particularly poorly, but when I watch him each week on this defense I’m not sure exactly what he brings to the table. The metrics surrounding his play aren’t ever really bad, although that changed this week.

He was PFF’s second lowest-rated defender for the Falcons with a paltry 37.8 grade, and he allowed eight of the nine passes thrown his way to be completed, per the analytics site. With a young safety like Jaylinn Hawkins emerging, it will be interesting to see how the snaps are allocated moving forward. Harris isn’t an issue by any means, but he’s not standing out either.