Besides getting more physical in the trenches, it would appear the majority of the Atlanta Falcons activity this offseason has been towards bolstering their depth at cornerback. The team signed Javier Arenas and Josh Wilson as free agents, both of whom have extensive experience as nickel cornerbacks. The pair is expected to push incumbent Robert McClain in that role, but also could serve as insurance in case second-year corner Robert Alford doesn’t live up to his potential as a starter.
So it would seem that the Falcons are done at cornerback this offseason with no strong need where the draft is involved. Between Arenas, McClain, Alford and fellow starter Desmond Trufant, there are 43 career starts. Wilson eclipses that easily with 81 career starts in seven years in the NFL, giving the Falcons plenty of experience to rely upon in 2014.
While they may not be short on NFL experience, they are short when it comes to actual stature. Trufant is the tallest cornerback, having measured at 5’11 5/8″ at the Combine last year. Alford is a smidge above 5’10” with Wilson and McClain both measuring barely above 5’9″. Arenas was measured at 5’8 5/8″ when he was at the Combine in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Falcons will face a bevy of oversized NFL receivers in 2014. Marques Colston, Vincent Jackson, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Josh Gordon all measure over 6’3″ and will be on the schedule this season. That doesn’t include the likes of Rueben Randle, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and Jordy Nelson, who are all just a few eighths of an inch below that same 6’3″ mark.
Also, that doesn’t factor in that several of the Falcons 2014 opponents are in position to add top oversized receivers like Kelvin Benjamin (6’5″), Mike Evans (6’4 3/4″), Martavis Bryant (6’3 3/4″), Jordan Matthews (6’3 1/8″), Allen Robinson (6’2 5/8″) and Cody Latimer (6’2 1/2″) in this month’s draft.
Trufant and Alford may be able to handle the excess size. Trufant got beat several times, but did not back down versus Jackson in a 10-catch Week 7 effort last season. Alford isn’t blessed with great size, but does his best to make up for it with aggressive and physical play.
But for McClain, Arenas and Wilson, who each could potentially be handling slot duties, the size does become a bit of a concern. Colston, Jackson, Fitzgerald, and Johnson all receive a significant number of their snaps playing inside and thus would tower over the Falcons small slot corners. Mohamed Sanu (6’1 1/2″) and Marlon Brown (6’3 7/8″) also received lots of reps in the slot last year for Cincinnati and Baltimore, respectively.
In the past, McClain has fared better against bigger wideouts moreso than he has against the smaller, quicker ones.
Getting a bigger corner that can play press coverage is a smart move for the future of the team, let alone dealing with some of the matchup this season. The size of NFL receivers is ever-increasing and many of the match ups the Falcons will have to face this year are going to be ones that will repeat for many years to come given the youth of certain players.
Any big corner added in the draft probably won’t be expected to contribute a lot as a rookie given the amount of experience ahead of him on the depth chart. But down the road he could become a key asset. McClain, Wilson and Arenas are each operating under one-year deals with the Falcons. Whoever has the strongest season will likely be prioritized next offseason to get re-signed. But it’s certainly possible that none play at a high enough level to merit getting new deals.
If that is the case, the Falcons could opt to move Trufant or Alford inside and deploy their 2014 rookie on the outside. That is a similar format as they had in 2009 when starter Brian Williams would kick inside in nickel situations, while Brent Grimes came off the bench and played outside.
Such a lineup featuring Trufant, Alford, and a big corner might be better able to deal with future size match ups than the Falcons current group of corners.
But regardless, any desire of the Falcons to draft a corner this year likely won’t be felt until the third day. If at all, the team may then decide to take a flyer on a late-round corner with size to add depth and give them something that current group is missing: size.