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Senior Bowl preview: Cornerbacks and safeties to watch for the Falcons

Next up in our Senior Bowl preview is defensive backs. Atlanta got solid play out of their secondary in 2021, but they could stand to upgrade several spots this offseason. There’s a strong class at the Senior Bowl that features a number of top prospects.

Rutgers v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

It’s officially Draft Season here at The Falcoholic, with the Atlanta Falcons locked into the 8th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Based on the results of the NFL’s divisional round of the playoffs, we also know that the Falcons will have the 58th pick as a result of the Julio Jones trade with the Titans. That gives the team three top-60 picks—and there’s the potential to add more with a few other player trades, if Atlanta is interested in making additional moves.

The next event on the offseason calendar is the Reese’s Senior Bowl—a showcase of the top draft-eligible seniors (or players who graduated early) that takes place in Mobile right around the first week of February. To get everyone ready for the week to come, I’ll be breaking down the top players to watch for the Falcons and the league at large. In case you missed any of the previous entries, you can find them here:

DL | LB | DB | WR | RB & TE | OL | QB

Next up is defensive back—including cornerbacks and safeties—which wasn’t the biggest issue on Atlanta’s roster but is still in need of a talent infusion.

CB

The Falcons had the makings of a good CB trio when everyone was healthy. A.J. Terrell grew into a shutdown CB1, Fabian Moreau provided solid CB2 play, and Isaiah Oliver was having a great season in the slot before ending up on IR. Heading into 2022, two of those three players are hitting free agency. Atlanta did just draft Darren Hall and Avery Williams, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they looked to draft a long-term running mate for Terrell.

This year features an excellent CB class, almost as good as the EDGE class. The Draft Network has 14 CBs in the top 100 and an additional 15 (!!) in the top-200. There’s star power with three potential top-10 talents in Andrew Booth, Sauce Gardner, and Derek Stingley Jr. along with tons of depth. The second-tier of the class is well represented at the Senior Bowl. Here are some of the players I’ll be watching closely.

Roger McCreary, Auburn

Everyone knows about Stingley, Booth, and Sauce, but the forgotten man who may even be in contention for CB1 is Auburn’s Roger McCreary. While he doesn’t have the eye-popping length of Stingley or Gardner, McCreary still has solid size (6’0, 190) and pairs it with very good athleticism. McCreary is scheme-versatile and technically advanced—he’s a smart player who is ready to start immediately in the NFL. He’s a strong, physical tackler and an asset in run support. McCreary could find himself with more top-20 hype after a strong week in Mobile.

Coby Bryant, Cincinnati

While all the attention in Cincinnati’s secondary went to Sauce Gardner—and rightly so—the corner across from him was getting tested constantly. Coby Bryant had an admirable season in 2021, and he’s got the length that NFL teams are looking for on the outside (6’2, 185). He’s scheme-versatile and is a ballhawk, with 6 INTs and 18 PBUs over the past two seasons. I’m interested to see how Bryant looks against Senior Bowl competition—he’s a good, not great athlete and has had tackling issues.

Derion Kendrick, Georgia

A well-known player on Georgia’s defense, Derion Kendrick is a bit of a tough eval. He had a great season in 2021 with 4 INTs, has solid size at 6’0, 190, and has very good lateral mobility. However, I’m not sure about his true long speed—and he’s extremely raw in man coverage. He’s got good instincts in zone and looks like a potential outside starter, but how will he look outside an elite defense? The Senior Bowl will be a big test for Kendrick, and it’s an excellent opportunity to answer a lot of questions about his game.

Mario Goodrich, Clemson

Here’s what I said about Goodrich in my latest mock draft. He’s got a chance to raise his stock significantly with a strong week in Mobile.

A late bloomer, Goodrich played a rotational role for much of his college career before seizing a starting spot in 2021. Across from an elite talent in Andrew Booth, Goodrich was targeted a lot—and he came through with a strong season. Goodrich has good size at 6’0, 190 and pairs it with quality athleticism. He played particularly well in zone coverage, where his instincts and closing speed helped him generate 9 PBUs and 2 INTs this year. As a run defender and tackler, Goodrich stands out. He’s physical, aggressive, and takes good angles to the ball. As just a one-year starter, there’s a lot of potential for Goodrich to continue to grow—particularly in man coverage. I like Goodrich as quality CB2 and a long-term running mate for A.J. Terrell.

Tariq Woolen, UTSA

Maybe the cornerback I’m most excited to see in Mobile, UTSA’s Tariq Woolen is an exceptional athlete at the position. Coming in at 6’4, 205, Woolen spent the first three years of his college career at wide receiver and it shows. Just a two-year starter at CB, Woolen has grown quickly and has enormous upside. Obviously, he’s raw technically and probably isn’t going to play much outside of special teams in year one. But he’ll go on Day 2 simply because of his potential—which is that of an elite, versatile defensive back.

Other players to watch:

Alontae Taylor, Tennessee
Cam Taylor-Britt, Nebraska
Akayleb Evans, Missouri
Jaylen Watson, Washington State

Safety

The Falcons do have a need at safety with both 2021 starters hitting free agency in Duron Harmon and Erik Harris. It’s entirely possible one or both are brought back, as neither will be expensive, but Atlanta could still stand to upgrade this group. Obviously, the hope is that Richie Grant will take over a starting role and that Jaylinn Hawkins can continue to grow. The team does lack a safety with high-end range and deep coverage skills, but we also know that Dean Pees prefers versatile, interchangeable players.

The safety class is among the weakest in the 2022 NFL Draft, however. There’s certainly talent to be had here, but outside of Kyle Hamilton (who is awesome) and Jaquan Brisker, there’s not a lot of star power. The Senior Bowl managed to get two of the top prospects, however, and I’ll be watching them very closely.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State

If the Falcons miss out on Kyle Hamilton, there’s another excellent safety prospect in Jaquan Brisker. While Brisker isn’t Hamilton in terms of size, he’s got plenty of it at 6’1, 200 and is every bit as athletic. Brisker was a do-it-all player who will appeal to teams who ask their safeties to play a versatile role—like the Falcons. He’s a smart, confident leader on the field who doesn’t have any significant holes in his game. Brisker is an impact NFL starter and I expect him to show out in Mobile.

Jalen Pitre, Baylor

If Jaquan Brisker’s price is too high to wind up in Atlanta, a Day 3 option could be Baylor’s Jalen Pitre. While he lacks the athletic upside of Hamilton and Brisker, Pitre is still a good athlete with solid size (6’0, 200). Similarly to those two players, Pitre also played a versatile, interchangeable role in the secondary. He’s an impact run defender (18.5 TFL, 3 FF in 2021) who also makes good plays on the ball (2 INT, 7 PD in 2021). I think Pitre has the upside of an NFL starter, and could raise his draft stock significantly at the Senior Bowl.

Other players to watch:

Damarri Mathis, Pitt
Tycen Anderson, Toledo
Yusuf Corker, Kentucky
Leon O’Neal Jr., Texas A&M

I hope you’re enjoying our Senior Bowl preview series! I’ll be in Mobile to cover the Senior Bowl for The Falcoholic from Tuesday, February 4 through Thursday, February 6. Stay tuned tomorrow for our next position preview: defensive back.