The 2021 NFL Draft is fast approaching, which means it’s time to discuss some priority targets for the Falcons. Atlanta has been carefully adding veterans in free agency to bolster several major roster holes, but the team still has significant gaps in the roster. Up until the draft, I’ll be detailing some of my top prospects for the Falcons at several positions of need. If you missed any of the previous entries in the series, you can find them below:
Next up is cornerback, where the Falcons are in desperate need of a talent infusion after seeing both Darqueze Dennard and Blidi Wreh-Wilson walk in free agency. There is some potential here with 2020 first-rounder A.J. Terrell performing well last season and former second-rounder Isaiah Oliver looking much more comfortable in the slot, but the rest of the depth chart is nothing but question marks.
Athletic testing numbers are taken from Kent Le Platte’s Relative Athletic Scores. Be sure to check out his site and follow him on Twitter (@Mathbomb) for updates on athletic testing!
Patrick Surtain II, Alabama
Projection: Early-to-mid 1st Round
2020 Stats: 13 games played | 37 total tackles, 22 solo, 3.5 TFL, 9 PD, 1 INT
If the Falcons pull off a small trade down—perhaps to 7 with the Lions, or 9 with the Broncos—they could still be in prime position for a top defensive talent. I’d expect Atlanta to take a long, hard look at Alabama CB Patrick Surtain II in that situation. The biggest “sure thing” at CB in the draft, Surtain checks all the boxes of a high-end CB1 and made a strong case for being the first defensive back off the board with stellar athletic testing at his Pro Day. He’s not quite a top-5 talent, but he’d be a great addition in the latter half of the top-10.
At 6’1, 203, Patrick Surtain II certainly has the look of a high-end CB1 prospect. He combines prototypical size with exceptional long speed and ball skills, making him a well-rounded outside corner. Surtain is at his best when he can use his size and physicality to disrupt opponents, but can struggle against smaller, shiftier WRs. His tackling is also a bit hit-or-miss, and he could still stand to improve his technique in some areas, but Surtain has the ceiling of an elite CB1 in the NFL.
Caleb Farley, Virginia Tech
Projection: Mid-1st Round
2019 Stats: 10 games played | 20 total tackles, 14 solo, 12 PD, 4 INT
If the Falcons were to trade down into the teens (or perhaps even lower), a possible target could be Virginia Tech’s Caleb Farley. My CB1 off of film, Farley is an electric talent with tremendous size and athleticism. He could be the highest-upside defensive player in the draft, with elite potential as a shutdown corner on the outside. Health concerns have caused him to fade a bit, perhaps even into the latter half of the 1st round. If Farley were somehow available at 35, I’d sprint to the podium to get him in Atlanta.
Farley is my top CB prospect in the class. He’s a rare athlete with tremendous size who plays the position very well. As a former wide receiver, he’s a terrific ballhawk with great instincts for the position. Farley is versatile and can play in just about any coverage scheme. He’s got elite CB1 upside and still has room to grow—he’s only played the position for a few years. Farley recently underwent a non-invasive procedure on his back and has dealt with back spasms in the past, which is why some teams have cooled on him as a top-10 prospect. However, I believe he’s a risk worth taking: Farley could be the best defensive player in the class when the dust clears.
Eric Stokes, Georgia
Projection: Late 1st-early 2nd Round
2020 Stats: 9 games played | 20 total tackles, 14 solo, 4 PD, 4 INT
With the Falcons picking at the top of the second round, there are bound to be fringe-1st round talents who wind up falling. One of those prospects could be Georgia’s Eric Stokes, who exploded onto the scene after reportedly running a 40-yard dash time in the mid-to-low 4.2s. RAS has his “official” time at 4.31—which is still damn fast—but he’s got quality tape to match his incredible speed.
One of the biggest risers of the 2020 season, Georgia’s Eric Stokes has emerged as one of the top CB prospects in the class. At 6’1, 185, he’s got good size and length for the position and is one of the most physical players I’ve seen thus far. Stokes is most comfortable in press coverage and plays it extremely well. Athletically, he isn’t quite as flashy as some of the other CBs on this list, but his long speed and agility are more than good enough. Stokes possesses inconsistent ball skills, but he’s been a near-shutdown CB on the outside this season and could possibly be around in the late 1st/early 2nd.
Asante Samuel Jr., FSU
Projection: 2nd Round
2020 Stats: 8 games played | 30 total tackles, 22 solo, 1.0 TFL, 6 PD, 3 INT, 1 FF
If the Falcons are targeting a cornerback in the second round, one of the top prospects who will almost certainly be available is Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. Somehow, I haven’t mocked Samuel to Atlanta yet, but my colleague Eric Robinson certainly has—and he’s also written up a full scouting report on him. Samuel lacks prototypical size at 5’10, 180, but that’s about the only negative thing you can say about his game.
He’s a terrific athlete, with blazing 4.41 speed and quality agility testing. Samuel is incredible in man coverage, with strong change-of-direction skills and instincts in coverage. Teams may try to move him into the slot, but Samuel showed few issues matching up with size on the outside due to his competitiveness and physicality. Speaking of physicality, he’s a quality run defender and tackler despite his size limitations. He does need more experience in zone coverage—he played almost entirely in man at FSU—but Samuel has the makings of a high-end CB2 at the NFL level.
Paulson Adebo, Stanford
Projection: 3rd Round
2019* Stats: 9 games played | 33 total tackles, 23 solo, 10 PD, 4 INT
A player who has seen his stock fall as a result of opting out in 2020, Stanford’s Paulson Adebo was once considered a top pick after an incredible sophomore season in 2018 featuring 4 INTs and 17 (!!) PDs. Adebo came back down to earth a bit in 2019, but he still put up 4 INTs and 10 PDs in 9 games. His tape is good, and concerns about a lack of deep speed were alleviated by strong athletic testing at his Pro Day. I’d target Adebo at the top of the 3rd round and feel like the Falcons got an absolute steal.
Adebo has prototypical size for the outside at 6’1, 190 and is a quality athlete. He’s versatile and is capable of playing in both man and zone coverage. Adebo’s ball skills are also top notch, and he’s a strong competitor at the catch point. However, Adebo isn’t impressive as a run defender and needs to show more “want to” as a tackler. He’ll have to answer questions about his physicality, but if the Falcons think they can get him to play harder in Dean Pees’ defense, he could be a steal this late on Day 2.
Trill Williams, Syracuse
Projection: 3rd-4th Round
2020 Stats: 5 games played | 23 total tackles, 14 solo, 1.0 TFL, 4 PD, 1 INT
Now entering the Day 3 range, there are no perfect prospects remaining. If the Falcons have waited this long to take a cornerback, they’re looking for quality contributors or developmental players with upside. In Syracuse’s Trill Williams, Atlanta would be getting an incredibly versatile defensive back who can play just about anywhere in the secondary. Lackluster athletic testing hurt Williams’ stock and might make him a better player at safety or in the slot, but I still believe he’s good enough to be a long-term CB4 and reserve at multiple spots.
Williams filled a versatile role for Syracuse, spending time at outside CB, slot CB, and even safety. At 6’2, 198, he’s also got the size to survive at any of those spots. Williams is a solid athlete with adequate movement skills. With his length, however, I think he’s built best for the outside in the NFL. Technically, he’s sufficient, but his instincts aren’t particularly well-developed due to constantly moving around the field. Williams also hasn’t been particularly effective as a ballhawk, which limits his upside. However, he’s got the look of a solid starter at worst—and his ability to line up anywhere could make him an ideal matchup CB for Dean Pees’ defense.
Ambry Thomas, Michigan
Projection: 4th-5th Round
2019* Stats: 12 games played | 38 total tackles, 30 solo, 3.0 TFL, 3 PD, 3 INT
Whereas Trill Williams presents immediate rotational ability and the versatility to backup multiple spots, Michigan’s Ambry Thomas offers intriguing upside as a potential future starter. Thomas opted out of the 2020 season and has very limited tape, but the flashes from 2019 are worth taking a shot at. With strong athletic testing that backs up his tape, Thomas would be an ideal developmental addition with one of Atlanta’s three fifth-round selections.
Thomas has the size to play on the outside at 6’0, 189, and his frame has good length to match up with bigger receivers. I liked his physicality as both a press corner and as a tackler in run support. Thomas is currently more comfortable in man or press-man than zone, but he’s shown some flashes there as well. There’s a lot of potential here, but very little tape to base it off of. In this area of the draft, I don’t think you’re getting much better upside than what Thomas offers, who has the look of a depth player and capable special teamer at worst.
Robert Rochell, Central Arkansas
Projection: 4th-5th Round
2020 Stats: 7 games played | 27 total tackles, 19 solo, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF, 3 PD
Central Arkansas’ Robert Rochell is a late riser who turned heads with exceptional athletic testing at his Pro Day. He’s got strong size and the makings of an elite athlete, but not much in the way of production at a lower level of competition. The Falcons would be wise not to count on Rochell outside of special teams in 2021, but he’s got long-term starting potential and could be a bargain later on Day 3.
A former wide receiver, Rochell transitioned to defensive back at the college level and that experience has served him well as a dangerous ballhawk. At nearly 6’0, 193, Rochell tested out as an elite athlete at his Pro Day with a 4.41s 40-yard dash, incredible 43’ vertical jump and 11” broad jump, and a 6.84s 3-cone. He’s intensely competitive, both in press and at the catch point, and has exciting potential on the outside due to his traits and length. However, Rochell tends to grab far too often and will have some growing pains transitioning from a lower level of play. He’s still got a lot of development ahead of him, but Rochell has intriguing long-term upside for the Falcons.