It’s easy to look at a defense that was one of the worst in the league and dismiss every position group. How can anyone celebrate a pass defense that made backup QBs look like legitimate stars each week?
Yet, if you take a step back and look at the fine details, the cornerback group may be one of the more promising units going forward for this Falcons team.
Stats: 16 games, 66 targets, 29 receptions (43.9%), 47.5 passer rating allowed, 200 yards (6.9 y/r), 3 TDs allowed, 3 INTs
It’s no stretch to say that Terrell was Atlanta’s best player on defense, and yes, that includes Grady Jarrett. Terrell’s rookie year was decent, but this leap was still a big surprise.
Allowing under 50% of his targets to be caught is an astonishing accomplishment and allowing less than 7 yards per reception is...well, it’s incredible. He earned 2nd team All-Pro consideration, which is remarkable considering the defense he was on. Simply put: Terrell is a building block and this was his breakout season.
Stats: 16 games, 76 targets, 50 receptions (65.8%), 116.3 passer rating allowed, 523 yards (10.5 y/r), 7 TDs allowed, 1 INT
No player was beat up more by fans than Moreau (well, except maybe Dante Fowler) and it’s easy to understand why. However, Moreau had a nice stretch in the middle of the season where he was mostly effective. He’s not someone you want as a permanent fixture at CB2, but he is also not as bad as some have made him out to be. If the Falcons draft another top corner and he is relegated to a more limited role, he’d be someone that’s worth bringing back on a similar deal as before (1 year, roughly 1 million).
If the Falcons do bring him back, he has to clean up the penalties. He had 11 on the year, which was the most of any defender by a long shot.
The rookies & Isaiah Oliver
Isaiah Oliver: 4 games, 15 targets, 9 receptions (60%), 96.8 passer rating allowed, 81 yards (9.0 y/r), 1 TD allowed, 0 INT
Avery Williams: 7 games, 15 targets, 12 receptions (80%), 119.2 passer rating allowed, 109 yards (9.1 y/r), 1 TD allowed, 0 INT
Darren Hall: 11 games, 39 targets, 30 receptions (76.9%), 113.4 passer rating allowed, 282 yards (9/4 y/r), 2 TDs allowed, 0 INT
Richie Grant: 11 games, 24 targets, 19 receptions (79.2%), 141.3 passer rating allowed, 202 yards (10.6 y/r), 3 TDs allowed, 0 INT
Before he went down with an ACL injury, Oliver was having a nice season in the nickel spot. Dean Pees could not say enough about his level of play and one has to wonder if the team looks to bring him back on an inexpensive one year deal. After his injury, his spot was manned mostly by Avery Williams, Darren Hall and Richie Grant.
Those three rookies were thrown into the fire and they understandably struggled. Grant, who was drafted to be a safety, struggled the most and was supplanted by Hall at the end of the season. To his credit, Darren Hall improved his play as the year progressed and looked respectable at times down the stretch. Avery Williams was never intended to be playing defense in his first year and it was easy to see why. Hall showed enough promise that he could compete for a lot more playing time in 2022.
Obviously, the grade of this group is anchored by the outstanding play of All-Pro Terrell. His leap in year two was more than anyone could have hoped for and if he keeps it up, he’ll be a cornerstone of this defense for the next decade.
Some of you may be thinking the grades for the others are generous, so let me explain the rationale. All of these guys played on a defense that was dead last in pressuring opposing QBs. They were often left to defend guys one-on-one because the only way to pressure the other team’s QB was to send extra rushers. That is a big factor that can’t be overlooked.
That said, this unit could use an upgrade at CB2 and we really need the rookies to make a big leap in year two for this to be a “good” unit overall.
If the team can snag another top corner in this draft, the potential for the unit looks very good. Darren Hall may be the most promising rookie and could carve out a significant role in 2022 depending on what the team does about Isaiah Oliver.
If the team can bring back Oliver and Darren Hall builds on a good finish to 2021, this may be a unit that will be better without an additional draft pick spent on the position. There is some promise at corner, but the team needs growth from its youngest players to ensure that promise is realized.