When looking at the Atlanta Falcons projected roster for the 2022 season, there’s arguably no more promising unit than their cornerback group. It’s wild to say, considering some of the secondary units we’ve seen in recent history, but this group on paper, is the strength of the defense in my opinion.
We did witness some turnover this offseason, as notables Fabian Moreau and Kendall Sheffield are no longer on the team. They added some pieces this offseason which seem promising, most notably Casey Hayward who has been solid in recent years.
Let’s look at where the Falcons’ cornerback group currently stands.
The starters: A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward
2021 Stats: 16 games played, 16 games started | 81 total tackles, 52 solo, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sacks | 16 PD, 3 INT | 82.6 overall PFF grade
With the exception of maybe Grady Jarrett, there’s no better player on this Falcons’ defense than cornerback A.J. Terrell. In 2021, Terrell exploded in his second season becoming arguably the best corner in the league. Out of all qualifying corners, Terrell ranked 2nd in yards allowed (200), 1st in yards per reception (6.9) and 1st in yards after catch allowed (93).
Additionally, Terrell finished 5th in the NFL in pass break ups with 13. He has a tremendous season in a relatively down year for the Falcons, but he left fans optimistic about the defense heading into his third season.
2021 Stats: 17 games played, 17 games started | 46 total tackles, 39 solo, 3.0 TFL | 9 PD, 1 INT | 76.6 overall PFF grade
After spending four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers, Hayward was signed by the Las Vegas Raiders to help groom and back up starters Trayvon Mullen and Damon Arnette. Hayward quickly proved to be their best corner, which partly explains why PFF graded him as the league’s 11th best corner in 2021. He is still a real asset in coverage.
Entering 2022, Hayward is projected to start opposite Terrell, forming what should be a sneaky good cornerback tandem. Hayward hasn’t shown any signs of falling off, and he’ll be the best second cornerback the Falcons have had in a while.
Depth: Isaiah Oliver, Darren Hall, Avery Williams, Mike Ford, Teez Tabor
2021 Stats: 4 games played, 3 games started | 11 total tackles, 7 solo| 3 PD, 0 INT | 70.0 overall PFF grade
Looking at Isaiah Oliver’s 2021 stats aren’t anything that will excite folks, but he was definitely passing the eye test last season. A devastating injury cost him most of the 2021 season.
Before he went down, Oliver looked like he was blossoming at the nickel spot in Dean Pees’ defense, showing the physicality he’s always brought to the table along with some very strong coverage chops. In March, Oliver signed back with the Falcons on a deal which will hopefully be beneficial to both parties, allowing him to put together an impressive year for a big 2023 contract while lifting this Falcons secondary.
2021 Stats: 14 games played, 1 game started | 27 total tackles, 21 solo| 3 PD, 0 INT | 72.6 overall PFF grade
A fourth-round selection in 2021, Darren Hall had a decent first season after being forced into a larger role due to Oliver’s injury.
After struggling early in the season, Hall finished the year playing better overall coverage and finished the season against New Orleans with his best performance to date. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on in 2022, and should be the fourth or fifth player on the depth chart.
2021 Stats: 15 games played, 1 game started | 22 total tackles, 11 solo| 0 PD, 0 INT | 48.0 overall PFF grade
Although he’s listed as a cornerback, the Falcons have a real special teams ace in Avery Williams. Of those with at least 20 kickoff returns in 2021, Williams finished as PFF’s best returner.
You’ll see his name again when we review the current special teams unit soon, but he’s at least interesting young depth at this position.
2021 Stats: 12 games played, 13 games started | 6 total tackles, 6 solo| 0 PD, 0 INT | 35.4 overall PFF grade
Ford is likely more of a special teams add, as that’s where he’s primarily excelled. In 2021, Ford was involved on 77% of special teams snaps for the Denver Broncos compared to just 2% on defense. Ford figures to compete for a depth and special teams role at the back end of the cornerback depth chart, and at worst is a favorite for the practice squad.
2021 Stats: 6 games played, 1 game started | 8 total tackles, 6 solo| 0 PD, 0 INT | 63.5 overall PFF grade
Teez Tabor is a 26-year-old defensive back who has played both cornerback and safety for the Bears and Lions and offers a little starting experience and a lot of special teams experience.
He’ll be a welcome addition to both Dean Pees’ defense and Marquice Williams’ special teams group this fall.
Outlook: Solid unit
As mentioned, I really like what I see from this unit. I think Terrell and Hayward will be an interesting tandem which would definitely assist the ongoing, non-existent pass rush. A reliable starting corner duo has always helped teams with a struggling pass rush. Once you get passed the starters, the depth is shaky but could surprise many. Oliver is someone to keep an eye on as he was impressive before getting injured in 2021.
Outside of those mentioned, the Falcons also have corners Corey Ballentine, Dee Alford, Lafayette Pitts, Matt Hankins, Cornell Armstrong and Tre Webb all vying for roster spots. Alford in particular is interesting given his strong 2021 season in the CFL, while Webb fought hard to push his way onto the roster after trying out for the team in rookie minicamp. They’ll have an opportunity to prove themselves this summer with the possibility of always landing on the team’s practice squad or landing that last defensive back spot on the roster, and this figures to be a strong and intriguing group this summer.