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Falcons post-draft roster preview: Cornerback edition

There’s reason for optimism with Atlanta’s cornerbacks, but there is also room for trepidation.

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For the first time since the Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford era ended, the cornerback position wasn’t among the clear top priorities for Atlanta heading into the offseason. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t considered a need for some Falcons fans, but the number of other holes on defense necessitated the team focusing elsewhere.

There’s reason for optimism with Atlanta’s cornerbacks, but there is also room for trepidation. A.J. Terrell looks like he could become a star at the position, which could be huge for a defense that has been searching for that kind of player. What this unit looks like in the future depends on the development of some key young players, though.

Let’s dive into the Falcons’ cornerback room now that the draft dust has cleared.

Starting options

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Fabian Moreau

2020 stats: 16 games, 9 tackles, 0 tackles for a loss, 2 interceptions, 3 pass defenses, 0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Signed through 2021 season

A newcomer for Atlanta, Moreau doesn’t have much proven starting production but brings tantalizing upside to a unit in need of a breakout player. Moreau was a third-round pick for the Washington Football Team in the 2017 NFL Draft, but he only has one season of at least 10 starts on his resume. Still, there have been some enticing moments on the field for Moreau, and cornerback should be a big area of competition for the Falcons this summer. Despite playing just 158 snaps in 2020, Moreau secured two interceptions and defended three passes.

Atlanta will want to play with a ball-hawking mentality in the secondary, and Moreau is certainly not afraid to take chances. That’s burned him at times in the past, but it’s also allowed him to get six interceptions over the last three seasons. Moreau is also a physical corner who should be able to make tackles in space, but his relative lack of lateral agility makes him best suited to man one of the outside spots.

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Isaiah Oliver

2020 stats: 16 games, 70 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 0 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Signed through 2021 season

Oliver enters what could potentially be his final season with the Falcons, and the former second-round pick will need to have his best year yet to really entice Atlanta to give him a second contract. It will be interesting to see what a new staff thinks of Oliver, who hasn’t been a bad player but is clearly just a fringe starter at this point in his career. There have been glimpses of improvement for Oliver, but he still gets picked on by opposing quarterbacks and has made costly errors during his three seasons in Atlanta.

It’s tough not to pencil in Oliver as a starter right now, but that could change in the coming months. The thing that could really keep Oliver in the starting lineup is his football smarts and ability to blitz the quarterback, something Dean Pees has said he plans to do frequently.

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Kendall Sheffield

2020 stats: 13 games, 51 tackles, 0 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 3 pass defenses, 0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Signed through 2022 season

After a very promising rookie year, Sheffield got off to a slow start in 2020 before getting back on track near the end of the season. He should absolutely get a look at a starting role for Atlanta’s defense, but it’s not quite clear where he will play. Sheffield played a majority of his snaps in the slot as a rookie, but he only played 33 snaps on the inside last season while playing outside corner for 455 snaps.

Sheffield has the versatility to play either position, and it may come down to what the new coaching staff values most in those roles. Speed is easily Sheffield’s biggest asset, and he can absolutely fly. He complements that with good tackling and instincts near the line of scrimmage. For Sheffield to really take the next step, he needs to begin making more plays on the ball. All of the tools are there for the former fourth-round pick to make the leap.

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A.J. Terrell

2020 stats: 14 games, 74 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, 7 pass defenses, 0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Signed through 2024 season

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – It’s hard for a rookie cornerback to be successful in the NFL. Well, Terrell must not have gotten that message. He was arguably the top rookie corner in the league last season and has the makings of a very good player at the position. Terrell was on the wrong side of some truly great catches last season, but he was rarely out of position at the catch point and made some special breaks on the ball to knock away passes.

Terrell finished the year with the 16th-best pass rush grade, according to PFF, and that skill should be utilized frequently in Pees’s defense. The former first-round pick is also a polished tackler with a knack for jarring the ball loose. There’s not much more that needs to be said about Terrell, because he might already be the third-best player on Atlanta’s defense and the future appears to be bright.

Key reserves

Delrick Abrams

Contract status: Signed through 2021 season

Abrams was primarily a practice squad player for the Falcons last fall, but he did suit up for three games. One of the standouts in training camp last year, Abrams brings great length to the position and could push for a roster spot on a depleted defense.

Darren Hall

2020 stats (college): 8 games, 37 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 3 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, 0 sacks, 0 forced fumbles, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Expected to sign a four-year contract

A fourth-round pick for the Falcons in this year’s draft, Hall is yet another risk-reward type of player at cornerback. In three seasons at San Diego State, Hall recorded six interceptions and a whopping 25 pass defenses. He likes to make plays on the ball, but he is still somewhat raw from a technique standpoint. Hall should add valuable depth early on with the upside to develop.

Tyler Hall

Contract status: Signed through 2021 season

Another 2020 training camp standout, Hall suited up for nine games last season and has some good skills for the coaching staff to work with. While he struggled when thrown into live action, those experiences should benefit Hall in his second season. He might have the best shot to be a full-time newcomer for this rotation.

Avery Williams

2020 stats (college): 7 games, 19 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 0 interception, 1 pass defense, 0 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 0 fumble recoveries

Contract status: Expected to sign a four-year contract

It’s possible that Williams makes a position change with the Falcons, as he has the versatility to be an offensive threat. Whatever the case, he’s a dynamic returner who should take over as Atlanta’s starting punt returner. If he stays at corner, it’s likely Williams is far down the depth chart as he continues to develop his technique.