The Atlanta Falcons enter training camp with a number of question marks at cornerback, particularly when it comes to their depth.
There are hardly any concerns in regards to the starting lineup since cornerback was one of the stronger positions for the Falcons last year evidenced by how productive the Falcons pass defense was despite having the league’s worst pass rush.
The combined coverage abilities of Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford made them one of the better pairs of cornerbacks in the league despite rankings to the contrary.
Trufant was the league’s least-targeted cornerback according to Pro Football Focus, solidifying his reputation as a player not to be tested by opposing quarterbacks. It prompted his first trip to the Pro Bowl. At this point Trufant has been one of the league’s premier cornerbacks in each of his first three seasons in the league and the Falcons are just hoping for a continuation of the status quo to justify the impending contract that he is likely to receive before the start of the 2017 season.
Alford on the other hand was one of the stingiest corners in the league with only 49.3 percent of the passes thrown his way being completed according to Pro Football Focus. The Falcons are hoping that Alford can build off last season, cleaning up a couple of rough outings in order to take his game to the next level.
Like Trufant, Alford too will be potentially playing for a new contract as he is set to hit free agency. Given the rising costs of cornerbacks the Falcons may find themselves unable to bid for him next spring, but in the mean time they hope to benefit from the fourth-year corner’s attempts to maximize his market value with improved play in 2016.
However the biggest concerns at cornerback for the Falcons this summer center on their lack of depth. The team hopes that 2015 second-round pick Jalen Collins can turn around what was a rough first year in the NFL. Collins initially dealt with a foot injury that caused him to miss much of the offseason, followed by a rough preseason and gaining and ultimately losing the nickel cornerback job during the regular season. Collins followed that up with an even more troubling offseason this past spring when the team found out that he will miss the first four games of the upcoming season due to a PED-related suspension.
With Collins unable to suit up for the first month of the season the Falcons have made the decision to promote fellow 2015 draftee Akeem King into the nickel cornerback spot. It’s not only meant to send a message to Collins but also a way to try and fast-track King’s development. King will need every rep he can get this summer since he only played 14 snaps on defense last year.
King was a college safety that is attempting to make the transition to cornerback in the pros and winning the opening-day spot as the Falcons’ third corner would mark a huge jump for the young cornerback. Whether he can do so will be the big development of the summer.
Pushing King will be DeMarcus Van Dyke, who also is a relatively untested option despite being the one true veteran of the group. Van Dyke served as the Oakland Raiders nickel cornerback during his rookie season in 2011, but spent the next two years playing special teams for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Van Dyke has more experience than both Collins and King but hasn’t been able to stick on three different teams’ rosters the past three summers, making it seem unlikely that he’ll do much to stick on the Falcons this summer.
But helping his chances is the sheer lack of experience on the Falcons roster as they approach camp. Behind Collins, King and Van Dyke, the Falcons have a trio of undrafted rookies and C.J. Goodwin, who is making the transition from wide receiver.
David Mims II, Devonte Johnson and Jordan Sefon are the college free agents and all three stand a better chance than most other undrafted players on the team entering this summer given the thin depth at cornerback. Should any of them play well during training camp, they could certainly sneak onto the roster as a fifth cornerback.
Goodwin possesses tremendous size and length (6’3”) and his past as a receiver should lead to at least above average ball skills. While Goodwin’s raw talent might impress enough to land a roster spot, he might be in a position to ride the bench in a sort of “redshirt” year as he adjusts to his new position.
Before the Falcons put too much faith in Goodwin or one of their untested college free agents, they will likely sign a veteran cornerback off the street. Phillip Adams, who alternated as the team’s third cornerback with Collins last year, is still an available free agent and could serve as an emergency option in case no one emerges in camp.
Cornerback is the position potentially most ripe for the Falcons to scour the waiver wire at the end of August looking for possible solutions. While the team is looking to maximize the increased reps and opportunities that they will be able to expose their young backup corners to throughout training camp, it seems very unrealistic that there won’t be at least one veteran addition before the start of the regular season given the overwhelming lack of experience behind Trufant and Alford. Collins’ four-game suspension only magnifies that issue.
Cornerback will certainly be a position worthy of close scrutiny this summer in order to monitor the progress of the talented, but untested depth. It’s unlikely given the lack of experience the Falcons are done making moves at the position, but whether it’s seen as a priority at the end of the summer from now will depend heavily on how the backups play in camp.